Entire Casuarina Police Station night crew called in sick, two officers doing second shift left to run the station: sources

by | Jun 27, 2022 | Cops, News | 0 comments

All officers rostered to work the night shift at Casuarina Police station called in sick last Saturday because of dissatisfaction with issues in the NT Police broadly, including Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker’s statement in response to the announcement of a Territory-wide vote of confidence in him in the coming weeks, sources have told the NT Independent.

Multiple sources told the NT Independent there would normally be six officers working in three crews on the 11pm to 7am shift at the Casuarina Police Station, which sits in Darwin’s largest residential area of the northern suburbs, but none of those rostered on worked the shift. Instead, the shift was covered by two officers who worked overtime, after working two people down on the evening shift which preceded it.

Several sources said officers were dissatisfied with various issues, including how long it will take to implement the recommendations from a mental health and well-being review into the NT Police Fire and Emergency Services, and the fact the NT Police executives signed a statement with Mr Chalker showing support for him.

They are also upset that the force is not a safe place to raise concerns about problems, which Mr Chalker admitted to in his statement.

Last Thursday NT Police Association president Paul McCue announced to his members the union would be holding a vote of confidence in Mr Chalker. Later that evening Mr Chalker issued a statement, which also had the names of all the NT Police executives attached to it: Deputy Police Commissioner Murray Smalpage; Deputy Commissioner Michael Murphy; Assistant Commissioner Michael White; Assistant Commissioner Bruce Porter; Assistant Commissioner Travis Wurst; and Assistant Commissioner Martin Dole.

In the statement, Mr Chalker wrote “the sentiment around confidence first started in the months following the event at Yuendumu in 2019” but did not manage to say what the event at Yuedumdu was, even though it saw the death of an Aboriginal man at the hands of police and one of the most high profile murder trials in NT history.

He did not mention Zach Rolfe, Kumanjayi Walker, a fatal police shooting, or the fact there was a murder trial, and that investigators recorded in their official police diaries that they did not support a murder charge based on the evidence they had collected, nor the speed of the charge.

“An understanding of the primary drivers of the sentiment raised by those present in those regional meetings will enable us to work collaboratively in overcoming any issues of concern,” he said in his statement about the no confidence vote.

“We remain committed to working with our people and the NTPA to continue to advance the NT Police force and the health and well-being of all of our members.

“We equally would like to understand the primary drivers of the sentiment as the NTPA executive has also expressed.”

Several sources said officers were angry that the police executive had signed their names to the statement, and pointed to a particular line in the statement that came later.

“We want to reach a stage that our entire workforce can be open about their concerns,” he wrote.

The source said this showed that the NT Police force was not a place where people could safely raise concerns about issues.

Previously sources have told the NT Independent the lack of confidence in Mr Chalker stems from the murder charge, but there is also deep unhappiness at the doubling of the attrition rate, a view that disciplinary action is being used for frivolous matters and to prevent members transferring to other jurisdictions, as well as a belief the executive enforce standards on the rank-and-file that they do not uphold themselves.

One source said there had only been four officers on the evening shift at Casuarina Police Station, which starts at 3pm and runs until 11pm, and two officers of those officers agreed to stay on duty. They said the officers were initially asked to work until 3am but ended up working until 6am because no officers who were contacted would work overtime shifts.

“All of Cas members booked off sick last night and no one would come in so there were no cars in Cas,” one source said. “Everybody is over it.”

The standard shifts are from 7am to 3pm, 3pm to 11pm, and 11pm to 7am, but some stations now incorporate 10 and 12 hour shifts.

In the Darwin city, Casuarina, and Palmerston stations, those shifts would have a minimum of six officers on duty.

The former Gunner Government promised the new $11 million Nightcliff Police Station would have a 24-hour a day counter, but when it opened in December the NT News reported the station had only 35 staff instead of the 70 anticipated, with no general duties officers and was only open to the public during business hours. Sources have said this is due to a lack of police officers.

Another source referred to the situation at Casuarina on Saturday night as the “blue flu”, saying police were not allowed to strike but could show their displeasure by being sick.

Mr Chalker did not respond to questions about the staffing shortage on that shift or more broadly. Nor whether it had potentially endangered either the public, or officers, and what action was taken to protect the mental health and well-being of the officer’s who had to work the long shift by themselves.

NT Police Association president Paul McCue also did not respond to questions about whether the union knew about the situation, and what it was doing to support officers, and to put in context the gravity of the staffing shortage problem.

There have been five known suicides, of current, or former police officers, this year alone. Police well-being service positions have been cut by the executive, and the Police Minister Kate Worden told Estimates the mental health and well-being review would not be made public.

Both Minister Worden, and Mr Chalker, said they would implement the recommendations from the report but Mr Chalker would need to put a funding submission into Cabinet to make it all happen.

The funeral for Aboriginal Community Police Officer Kumanjayi Presley, an officer who killed himself, was held in Alice Springs on Tuesday, and Mr Chalker attended. He went to the Alice Springs Police Station but he did not address staff there, a source said.

Last Thursday Mr McMue sent a message to members saying it was clear they wanted a vote of confidence in Mr Chalker, and that the vote would happen in the “coming weeks”, but also took the opportunity to distance himself and the union executive from any involvement in the motions put from sub-branches for the confidence vote, which he is referring to as a “survey”.

Nine of the 12 regions have had motions from members from the floor during NTPA meetings asking for a vote of confidence in the commissioner. The only branches where the vote is unknown, are those representing the Commissioner, police auxiliaries, and Aboriginal community police officers, with at least 450 officers out the approximately 1660 total officer, having supported motions for the vote.

In Budget Estimates Mr Chalker argued he had a lot of support to stay in his role, saying that being Commissioner of Police took a great personal cost.

“I also have to trust that the large majority, arguably the silent majority, know that that is the processes that are in place, know that these are not processes that might have implemented to deliberately cause harm,” he said in relation to the ongoing Walker death processes.

“But I know there are people who’ve been very emotionally impacted by this and again, they read a lot of the rhetoric that’s out there, and as I’m picking up, you’ve all been reading the media…you would know that some of the commentary has been nothing short of disgusting, has not been factual, and has been deliberately targeted to cause harm.”

In Budget Estimates last week Mr Chalker said there were 1669 sworn officers which was an increase from 1,537 at July 31, 2021 cited in the NT Police annual report.

But the NT Independent reported on the latest NTPA resignation and retirement figures this week, with 171 officers having left the force in the period from May 25, 2021 to May 24, 2022, meaning the attrition rate was to 10.2 per cent for those 12 months.

However Mr Chalker told Estimates recruitment had stayed ahead of the attrition rate. According to the NT Police annual report tabled in late October, the attrition rate at June 1 for the last financial year had nearly doubled to 8.51 per cent, up from 4.53 per cent in the 2019-20 financial year, and 4.66 per cent the year before. Mr Chalker started in the role in late November 2019, and COVID-19 restrictions hit the Territory in April 2020.

In his Thursday statement he said it was clear that the last two and a half years for the NT Police have been extraordinary with being tasked enforcing the COVID-19 mandates – including manning the borders for a long period – and a number of criminal and disciplinary matters involving members have added to these challenges.

The COVID-19 work along with a doubling of police attrition from the force have meant that for a long period of time many officers had to put off taking holidays, and have been forced to work overtime or work on shifts with a lack of staff.

“We will continue to work with the NTPA on any specific issue that is raised through this survey as we continue to do so for all matters that are brought to our attention,” he said.

“We know there are many officers not represented at these forums and we understand this sentiment has caused anxiety and distress to some of these members.”

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