By DARREN COYNE
TWENTY-FIVE police officers in the Tweed/Byron Local Area Command are off sick, and on certain nights only one car patrols the Tweed area and another patrols Byron.
But newly-appointed LAC Superintendent Michael Kenny yesterday gave an assurance that everything was being done to increase the strength of our thin blue line.
Those efforts include more regular police patrols through trouble spots like Knox Park at Murwillumbah, and extended hours for car crews across the LAC.
The Daily News can reveal that the Tweed/Byron LAC has an authorised strength of 154 offi-cers, but presently 25 are off sick and another 10 are on restricted duties.
There are, however, an extra 12 officers from other areas working in our region, which means that the actual strength of the LAC is down in real terms by 13 able-bodied officers.
Police sources say front-line officers regularly are asked to perform overtime to ensure that first-response agreements are maintained, with some officers working from nine to 12 extra hours at times.
John Morgan, NSW Police Association Northern Region organiser, which runs from Gladesville Bridge in Sydney to Tweed Heads and out as far as Tamworth, said the numbers simply did not stack up for the Tweed/Byron LAC.
Mr Morgan arrives in Tweed Heads this week to speak with local officers as part of the association's push to have 3000 more police appointed in NSW over the next three years.
He believes an extra 15 to 20 police officers are needed immediately to deal with increased pressure from coastal development, and the large influx of tourists into the region, especially at Byron Bay and the expanding Tweed Coast.
Meanwhile, Supt Kenny said while crime figures ? apart from stolen vehicles ? had actually been declining in the region in recent times, he acknow- ledged that more police would make the job easier.
"I'd certainly be grateful for any increase in strength that the government deployed but that is a matter for the government and the Commissioner (of police)," Supt Kenny said.
Supt Kenny said the com-mand would be well-placed to argue for increased strength should more police be announced by the government in the future.
He said policing numbers across the Northern Region were being examined at a senior level, taking into account such things as increasing coastal populations and crime trends.
According to a NSW Police Association submission to the state government, changes in the policing environment such as legislation, training requirements and internal practices are severely impacted on police numbers.
"The overall effect is that any one time a LAC which operates on a 24/7 basis with an authorised strength of 180 may only have 10 officers on duty on a shift to staff both the station and car crews," the submission says.
The Association points out that in New York city there are five police officers for every 1000 population and crime rates have fallen dramatically in recent years.
The United Kingdom has experienced a 39 per cent decline in crime over the last 10 years after increasing the number of police.