Policing in New North Wales

One of the difficulties in promoting the concept of a new state is identifying what will change and what will remain the same. So in this article we will look at the existing numbers and structure of policing in Northern NSW and use comparisons with other states to project how this is likely to change if the region was self governing within the Commonwealth.

For the purposes of this analysis we will assume that the new state comprises 906,000 residents, being 244,100 in the NSW Far North Coast, 348,900 in the Mid North Coast and 313,000 in the Northern Tablelands and Upper Darling River. It does not include the Hunter Valley or Broken Hill. It is a neat 1/8th (12.5%) of the NSW population of 7.253 million (as at 30/9/2010).

Current police numbers in NSW (at Dec.2011) are 16,092 or an average of one officer for each 434 residents. Some 12,958 (80.53%) are involved in field operations at the ratio of one officer to 560 residents. The remaining 3,134 (19.47%) can be classed as Head Office functions, such as 16 in the Commissioners office, 406 in Corporate Services and 2,712 in Specialist Operations (SWAT, prosecutions, Internal Affairs etc), mostly in Sydney.

Current numbers in the New North Wales region are 709 in the inland and 952 on the coast for a total of 1,661 officers at a ratio of one officer to 542 residents. There is a significant variance in the ratios, with one officer to 440 residents inland and one to 623 residents on the coast. The inland ratio appears to be due to reduced efficiency of smaller town units, distance between units, and a larger aboriginal population which is overrepresented in crime statistics. This region wide ratio is slightly lower than the state wide average for field operations officers.

If all police jobs were evenly distributed in proportion to population then the New North Wales region would have an extra 350 positions for a total of 2,011. This staffing shortfall of 17.4% is then exacerbated by the fact that the Head Office and Specialist salaries are significantly higher than that of field operations officers. If the average Head Office salary is 50% higher than the average field operations officer’s then the salary budget disparity will rise to 26%. This means that for the portion of each taxpayers Federal GST funds that go on police salaries, some 26% of the New North Welshman’s share does not circulate in the regional economy, leaking instead to Sydney where it remains in circulation, exacerbating congestion costs.

The same applies to office overheads. The cost of Sydney office space is at least double the cost of the same space in a regional city. And that means that for each taxpayers share of GST funds that cover office space, a larger portion of the regional taxpayers GST will leak from the regional economy and circulate in Sydney, creating additional jobs at the expense of regional jobs and further forcing up city costs and congestion diseconomies.

So how would that change in a new State?

A quick look at Tasmania will give us a good indication. They have 1,260 officers for their 503,300 population at a ratio of one officer to 400 residents. When another 400 non-police administrative staff are included the ratio drops to one officer to 303 residents.

Some would interpret this as evidence of the inefficiencies of small states. The corporate services section of Tasmanian Police appears to be the same size as the NSW one that serves a population 14 times larger. But the picture is far more complex than that. For a start, the Commonwealth Grants Commission (that knows quite a bit about state finances) is quite clear on the fact that only the Commissioner’s team constitutes the “fixed” portion of a state’s departmental costs. The rest are jobs that are in direct proportion to the number of services delivered. So it is wrong to assume that all the administrative staff are in the Head Office.

Furthermore, the differences in salaries and office costs between Sydney and Hobart means the Tasmanians have significantly greater purchasing power for their federal GST dollar. It would make eminent good sense to use the money one saves on lower salaries and office costs to employ additional support staff to keep the police in the field and to employ more of them to improve service delivery and reduce the stress and attrition rate of all of them.

And more importantly, because of the smaller size of that state, the proportion of the budget that is devoted to head office remains in circulation right through its economy with less regional distortion.

The same would apply in the new state of New North Wales. In general, the scale of specialist operations and corporate services is in direct proportion to the work generated by the field operations staff. The new Commissioner will insist on his 16 member team in the new state capital (as they do). But the numbers required in corporate and specialists roles is likely to be approximately 12.5% of existing numbers for the whole state. This would mean about 51 in corporate services and another 339 in specialist operations for a total head office staff of 406.

When this is added to the existing 1661 field officers we get a total of 2,067 staff at a ratio of one officer to each 438 residents. This is 56 officers more than the 2,011 officers that would constitute the neat 1/8th of the existing NSW total. But the cost of these is likely to be more than covered by the lower cost of office space in the new capital.

And if that new capital is located somewhere close to the demographic centre of gravity just south of Grafton, all of these salaries will circulate quite evenly throughout the new state’s economy. Over 90% of the new states population will be within the critical three hours drive of the new administrative engine of growth.

If these 406 newly transferred corporate and specialist roles maintain their relativities to field operations salaries they will deliver the equivalent economic stimulus of an extra 609 local police jobs which, under the standard 3.5 times economic multipliers, will generate somewhere in the order of 2,100 permanent regional jobs.

And that is from the Police Budget alone. Regional autonomy is the only proven effective means of decentralization. It maintains overall economic growth while reducing metropolitan congestion costs and avoiding further urban diseconomies of scale. It is the idea who’s time has come.

[update Jan 29 2012] Police Training.

The other obvious change will be to police training. The NSW Police Academy at Goulburn is attached to Charles Sturt University and has single accommodation for 816 trainees.  The new state, with 1/8th the police numbers of NSW, is likely to need only 102 places to meet its training requirements.  And some may argue that this service would be more efficiently delivered if New North Wales continued to train their recruits at that location.

But this is false economy as the distance of any educational institution from home has a major bearing on a students decision to use that facility. Goulburn is more than 12 hours drive from the third of NNW that lives north of a line drawn just south of Tenterfield, Casino, Lismore and Ballina. And that means that a third of the potential police recruits for the new state have had an alternative career path entry point just two hours away at the Qld Police Academy. This is obviously not a representative sample, but of the three yearly cohorts either side of 1973 from my own high school at Mullumbimby, those pursuing a police career were split 50/50 between the two options. And that was back when the NSW Academy was in Sydney, not 2 hours further away.

A smaller centrally located new state police academy that is less than 3 hours drive from 90% of potential recruits would not only keep these recruits in their own state but the recruitment losses in the rest of the state will also be reduced, helped in no small part by the absolute certainty that they will not end up being posted to Sydney or Broken Hill. The benefits from this vastly improved recruitment situation will overwhelm the minor costs of a duplicated institution that could just as easily be attached to UNE or SCU.

It should also be noted that New North Wales voters and tax payers are already the co-owners of every bit of software and intellectual property, including all lecture and training material, that is used at the current NSW Police Academy. And they would have the right to retain a copy of all such material for use in their new academy.  Only the hardware would need to be acquired up front but much of this is has a short effective life which is regularly upgraded anyway.

Ian Mott.


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A site for informed discussion on the strengths, weaknesses, risks and opportunities to be gained for regional Australians through the formation of new states within the commonwealth.
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One Response to Policing in New North Wales

  1. Ian Mott says:

    So what does this mean? For some years now I have been assuming that such specialist functions were about 20% of every department’s budget. And as State government outlays account for 15% of GDP then this 1/5th of the regional economy’s equitable share of that 15% amounts to a 3% leakage of regional GDP. The fact that the specialist roles have a higher salary indicates that the real reverse multiplier would be higher still. This represents the “smoking gun” of centralised governments key role in regional economic decline.

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