NT Police are grappling with a critical staff shortage in Alice Springs due to resignations and increased demands on officers during the recent COVID-19 surge, sources with knowledge of the situation said, that has seen senior crime detectives put on the beat at bottle shops and regular operations reduced.
Numerous sources confirmed the situation is severe and has affected the police’s ability to manage day-to-day operations in Alice Springs, that has resulted in only one crew of officers on at a time in some instances and at least one remote community having gone without a police presence for an indeterminate amount of time.
Last weekend, Alice Springs was plunged into a COVID-19 lockout, putting extra strain on officers to enforce restrictions in the town, which sources said was getting near impossible to do effectively.
“It’s unofficially agreed that anything the government or executive are saying is, or will happen, isn’t because there is no staff, but the executive don’t want to hear it,” one source said.
“[The issues] raised in emergency meetings for COVID response is that there’s not enough police staff to enforce and catch COVID rule-breakers here.”
The source said the situation was getting out of hand, with eight officers recently needed to cover the COVID-affected communities of Amoonguna and Yuendumu taken from the Alice Springs station.
Another source said the Alice Springs station was so short-staffed “it’s not funny”, and has resulted in some bottle shops in town going without an officer at night and other standard operations being curtailed.
The sources said more than a dozen Alice Springs police have resigned or retired in the last couple of weeks.
The NT Independent reported last month that 33 officers Territory-wide either resigned or retired in just two months to October, in keeping with an attrition rate that nearly doubled last financial year compared to the year previous.
An NT Police Association survey of more than 530 police staff last year found that 64 per cent of those surveyed said morale was low or very low.
Last month, Sergeant Leith Phillips from Alice Springs also resigned in a high-profile resignation citing his loss of belief in the leadership and his rejection of some of the chief health officer directions issued under the COVID-19 emergency response.
The sources said an “exodus” of Alice Springs officers are expected to leave after the current COVID-19 emergency management plans start to wind down.
“They’re not being ‘lured’ south; they’re actively looking,” a source said. “Once things settle a bit with COVID, there will be more exodus of experience.”
The sources said the recent promotions of sergeants and senior sergeants have been made after an interview, rather than the typical training process, in which officers would take tests and courses.
There have also been questions raised about the training being provided in emergency operations positions.
“People in the emergency management positions are flying by the seat of their pants,” one said.
The NT Police executive did not respond to the NT Independent’s questions, including whether the safety of the town was being put at risk by the lack of officers.