Dan Box, The Australian
Detectives in the country’s largest police force are increasingly angry with the NSW government’s failure to appoint a new generation of leaders, with a draft letter circulating among senior officers asking “Why has the future of the NSW Police Force stalled?”.
It raises questions about the drawn-out appointment of a new commissioner and deputy commissioners, warning that a planned restructure of “much needed resources … seems to be on hold”.
Officers at various levels in the force have privately expressed their frustration with the government over of the issue, saying it has provoked uncertainty and inertia among the senior ranks.
The state’s powerful Police Association also yesterday publicly criticised the approach being followed by the NSW government, saying “it is critical” for a new commissioner “to decide on the direction of the NSW Police Force”.
With the force’s current commissioner, Andrew Scipione, due to step down in July after previously being asked to extend his contract for two years, no successor has yet been identified. One of his former deputy commissioners, Nick Kaldas, retired in March 2016 and has not been replaced. Plans to appoint two further deputy commissioners, announced last August, went to cabinet before Christmas but a decision was delayed until this month.
“The government, particularly the NSW Police Minister, must surely provide some answers around this issue,” says the draft letter, which has been seen by The Australian after being circulated between officers at the force’s elite State Crime Command.
It questions whether the state’s Police Minister, Troy Grant, has objected to the planned appointment of two deputy commissioners, a shortlist of candidates for which was provided by Mr Scipione last month.
A spokeswoman for Mr Grant did not respond directly to this yesterday, saying only: “The process is currently under way for the recruitment of the new deputy commissioners.”
The letter also says that the ongoing uncertainty has affected a planned restructuring of the police force, begun last year, that “was going to ensure much needed resources would be moved internally to get the right numbers in the right locations”.
“But all this now seems to be on hold until a new commissioner is found in 2017,” it says.
The appointment of a new police commissioner is set to be one of the most contentious decisions facing the Baird government in the next few months.
Of the two remaining deputy commissioners, one, Catherine Burn, was recently found to have acted “unlawfully” by the state Ombudsman in relation to the deployment of an undercover informant who was allowed to breach his bail conditions. She has rejected the Ombudsman’s findings.
The state coroner, Michael Barnes, is also expected to hand down the findings of an inquest into the 2014 Lindt cafe siege, in which three people died, in the next few months. Lawyers representing the families of murdered hostages were critical of the actions of senior officers and the resourcing of others within the counter-terrorism command, which Ms Burn oversees.
The second current deputy commissioner, Dave Hudson, is widely seen as unlikely to be promoted at the moment.
With relatively few deputy commissioners to choose from, and little time for a newly appointed deputy to gain experience before being promoted in July, it is possible Mr Scipione will be asked to extend his contract again. He previously extended his contract in April 2015 and has publicly said he would refuse if asked to serve another term.
Police Association of NSW president Scott Weber yesterday said the government should decide who will lead the force before appointing more deputies.
“It makes sense for the new commissioner to be appointed first. It is critical for the new commissioner to decide on the direction of NSW Police Force and the selection of the deputies will be strategic in setting this direction,” Mr Weber said.
The appointment of an external candidate for commissioner would be rejected by the police association, with the draft letter saying “that is dreaded by the rank and file members”.