2017: A year of highs and lows for Tweed police
FROM crime and tragedy to big milestones, 2017 has been a year of highs and lows for the Tweed/Byron Local Area Command.
The year began on a sad note for the command when long-time duty officer, Inspector Darren Steel, passed away in March. He was farewelled in an emotional service at Melaleuca Station, where he was given full honours with a marching band and guard of honour.
Just days after the funeral, the police were called to join other emergency services in responding to the region's worst flood in history, where they helped in the co-ordination of the flood recovery, from managing the evacuation of stranded residents to the closure of the Pacific Highway for 24 hours.
Their task was made all the more grim with their recovery of six bodies during the flood, including those of a mother and her two children after their van plunged into the swollen river at North Tumbulgum.
Serious crime ensured a busy year for the command, with several shocking incidents, including the death of Murwillumbah father Charlie Larter, who died while trying to protect his son during a brawl at Knox Park in early June. The case sparked a petition calling for increased police presence in Murwillumbah.
Rivalry between outlaw motorcycle gang members culminated in a fight outside Seagulls Club later in the month, leading to the arrest of two gang members.
Not long after, police were again forced to clamp down after the fatal shooting of "wannabe” gangster Ace Hall, who died after being shot in the stomach at South Tweed.
And in another grisly case, the body of a badly burned man was found on the side of a road at Kunghur in July, after a passing motorist raised the alarm. Two men have since been charged over the incident, which also saw another victim injured. Several serious and fatal motor vehicle accidents also kept emergency services on their toes during the year.
In September, police welcomed the official opening of their long-awaited new $25 million police headquarters at Tweed Heads, after years of working in cramped conditions.
But the opening coincided with the initiation of industrial action by members of the Police Association in response to concerns the command was "at breaking point” due to low staffing levels.
Working with the Tweed Daily News, the police union launched the Cops in Crisis campaign, calling for an urgent boost in police numbers, which the union said had made headway.
A PANSW member said eight new officers, including two detectives, soon to be brought into the command and five additional temporary officers over the summer, were a "great” result made possible by their campaign.
"It's very positive but there's still a long way to go,” the member said.
"It's certainly not everything we need. We still need the resources to deal with organised crime.”
Tweed/Byron LAC Superintendent Wayne Starling said it had been a significant year for the region's police.
"We've had exceptional arrests during 2017, where people have been brought to justice,” Supt Starling said.
"We've had a lot of events with the community which has obviously improved the relationship between police and the community. The police got the police station they deserve.”
Many major crime categories are stable on the Tweed, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, with recorded incidents of fraud dropping 12.4 per cent in the past two years.
But there has been a spike in murders, with three in the 12 months to September this year. While saying there was "no greater crime than murder”, Supt Starling said the statistics were a "spike” rather than a trend.
"One offence is too many and there's no greater crime than murder,” Supt Starling said.
But he said the statistics were a "spike”, rather than a trend. In the 12 months to September this year, the Tweed had a 4:1 rate of murders per 100,000 people compared to the state average.
This was surpassed by Parkes (8.6 - one incident), Murray River (10.9 - one incident), Mid-Western Regional (5.3 - one incident), Wagga Wagga (6.0 - three incidents), Walcha (41.0 - one incident).
Supt Starling said while seeing some levels of crime in a stable position, he still had a view to improve them.
"While statistically, stable is good, I want better than stable,” he said.
"I want our crime rates to go down.”
He said "proactive policing” played a huge role in making this possible.
"The police are very proactive, we're trying to keep firearms of the streets, we're taking action on outlaw motorcycle gang members, but I wouldn't say that our community's an unsafe place,” he said.
"Proactive policing is very resource intensive.”
Supt Starling welcomed news the command would have eight additional police, including two detectives, early next year.
"We're just about to advertise positions, and I'm very excited about that,” he said.
"Two of those positions will be CI positions and that will have a significant impact in how we target not just street-level crime but mid-level crime as well.”
In the 12 months to September this year, domestic violence-related and other assault were up slightly, along with sexual assaults and other indecent assault.
Break-and-enters on homes and non-dwellings were both down in the Tweed Shire.