With the conclusion of Rural Crime Week, a number of Murrumbidgee residents have expressed their concerns over policing in the district, and Murrumbidgee Police District’s acting Commander addresses their concerns.
Rural Crime Investigators (RCI) are an essential part of regional police forces. They investigate a host of rural crimes – such as animal theft and cruelty, wool theft, machinery theft, farm fraud, trespassing and illegal shootings on farm properties.
But for Kerrie Johnston of Naradhan in Bland Shire and Debbie Buller from Murrami, they have come out to say said farmers had “given up” reporting incidents due to the lack of available police.
Ms Johnston relayed concerns over response to rural crime, saying it could take three, four or even five days for police to respond to a crime report.
“Our RCI does a fantastic job. But there is just one of him. What do we do when he’s not on shift? Or when he’s investigating a matter in another shire?”
There seems to be a lot of misinformation circulating about rural crime and the processes behind investigations.Acting Commander Detective Superintendent Peter O’Brien.
Acting Commander of Murrumbidgee Police District Detective Superintendent Peter O’Brien has addressed their concerns in the hopes to clear any “misinformation” that residents may have.
As the former spokesman for rural crime in NSW, he says there may be a number of reasons why police may not attend a property after the report of a crime incident.
He also points out how counter-productive it would be to stop reporting crimes.
“The community are our eyes and ears, and if they don’t let us know about crime how can we possibly attempt to tackle what we don’t know?” Superintendent O’Brien said.
He said while there was only one RCI in the Murrumbidgee Police District, rural crimes could be investigated by any officer in the command, with a reporting system almost jigsaw-like in it’s process to stop rural criminals in their tracks.
“There seems to be a lot of misinformation circulating about rural crime and the processes behind investigations,” Superintendent O’Brien said.
“One of the things I’ve noticed is that people think only the rural crime investigators looks at rural crime. That is not the case. All our officers respond to incidents, and they get logged accordingly, and if the specialised expertise of the rural crime investigator is then required to continue investigations then they will do that.”
HOW RURAL CRIME SYSTEM WORKS
Superintendent O’Brien said every report is taken seriously, and gave a brief run-down of how investigating practices work.
The system in place tracks crime across the state, with a priority system in place to determine urgency.
“Within our police reporting mechanism and system, rural crime is a category of crime. So anything that is related to rural crime goes into that category. The person who does data entry sends that data and information to all police, especially disseminated to rural crime investigators, locally and across NSW.”
He said farm equipment, property, sheep, cattle can all be easily transportable throughout the state.
“Car number plates, if they are known, are sent to traffic and highway patrol and data is uploaded to in-car computers so we can keep track.
“But if people come to us and say, my farm gate is missing and I last saw it a week ago, or discover property missing from an open shed they hadn’t used in a while, of course we will log it and do what we can, but we do prioritise the use of our resources accordingly.
“And again, all this information comes from witnesses who see crime and suspicious vehicles or whatever the case may be.”
LAYING BLAME ON GOVERNMENT
Mrs Johnston said bureaucrats seemed “to blame farmers” for problems at a rural crime forum held in Temora in September.
“They kept telling us we need to report more. That we need to take better care of our equipment, to lock it up more securely. We would gladly report crime if there were enough police to respond to our requests,” Mrs Johnston said.
Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party (SSF) candidate Helen Dalton said what she saw was classic “victim blaming”.
"This is akin to city police telling women to avoid going out at night and to dress conservatively to avoid sexual assault," Mrs Dalton said
“In 2017, the NSW Government told a Griffith forum hosted by NSW Farmers that it planned to fill an extra 11 RCI positions across the state,” Mrs Dalton said.
"But one year later – we are still waiting.”
Mrs Buller pointed out that some towns across the region have police stations with a skeleton staff rostered for limited hours.
“Unfortunately, criminals don’t limit their activity to daylight hours,” Mrs Buller said.
“A few of my neighbours have had farm equipment stolen recently. All have been frustrated with the process of reporting incidents. Sometimes, there’s just no police available to help”.
Superintendent O’Brien said Murrumbidgee Police District, like all police districts, was always working to fill any vacancies in staffing numbers.
“We are always actively seeking to fill any vacancies we have, and I’d rather have places filled than empty,” he said. I’d like to have 20 RCIs, but it’s not going to happen. All Commanders want more staff. But we have to be realistic as well what the government allocates.”
Police minister Troy Grant’s spokesperson said the Shooters’ Party needed to check facts before criticising the government.
The community are our eyes and ears, and if they don’t let us know about crime how can we possibly attempt to tackle what we don’t know.Acting Commander Detective Superintendent Peter O’Brien.
“In line with eight recommendations provided by the Bradshaw Report – which was conducted to ensure police were appropriately structured and resourced to target increased challenges of rural crime – 11 dedicated RCIs have been allocated to rural or regional areas,” the spokesperson said.
“The NSW Government and NSW Police Force take rural crime very seriously, which is why in early 2017, Police Commissioner Fuller also created a new Deputy Commissioner Regional NSW Field Operations position.
“Our farmers are the lifeblood and backbone of this country – they are already doing it extremely tough with the drought and the theft of livestock and equipment further contributes to the hardship they are currently facing.”