Police Response Times
POLICE RESPONSE TIMES
Mr CLOUGH: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Police. What is the Government doing to improve police response times?
Mr WHELAN: I commend the honourable member for Bathurst for the great work he has done to ensure that 70 new jobs will be created in his electorate. Today the Premier announced that two new police call centres will be established, one in Lithgow and the other on the central coast, to support the new police assistance line, or PAL as it is known. Those centres will create approximately 240 jobs in regional areas with high unemployment levels.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If members wish to hold private conversations they should do so outside the Chamber.
Mr WHELAN: I am pleased to reveal to the House that PAL is part of a broader Government plan to improve police response times. In March this year the Auditor-General released his report about police response times after a request from me in 1997. The report indicated that the service was making progress, via the renewed focus on the front line, in improving police response. However, the Auditor-General believed, and the Government agreed, that there was more to be done. After the report was released I announced a five-point plan to improve response times which included more police, a strategic plan, extra accountability, public awareness of the response system and better use of resources. Today I can inform the House that the Government has endorsed Commissioner Ryan’s strategic plan to improve response times.
The Police Service has identified PAL as a best means of measuring and improving police response. The total cost of the project in the first three years will be $30 million. The police assistance line will improve responses to urgent calls by releasing police from non-urgent work. It will improve response to non-urgent calls by providing a more efficient service. The police assistance line will result in trained operators, under police supervision, providing a 24-hour service for reporting crimes and incidents which do not require police attendance. It is proposed that PAL will be rolled out in three phases. First, the Campbelltown PAL, the trial site, will remain until the roll-out is complete. Campbelltown is currently servicing Campbelltown, Fairfield, Green Valley, Brisbane Water and Bankstown local area commands. Second, the roll-out of the Lithgow PAL will commence at the beginning November. I am sure that the honourable member for Bathurst will be happy with that news. Third, the roll-out of the central coast PAL will commence in January, when tenders will issue. The statewide completion target date is May 2000.
A large proportion of non-urgent calls, estimated at 40 per cent of crime and incident reporting, and 80 per cent of calls for information will be dealt with through PAL. At Campbelltown more than 90 per cent of respondents rated the PAL service as good to very good. However, it must be said that PAL will not replace a response by a police officer. The police assistance line will be used when no crime is in progress, no victims are traumatised, the crime is not serious, and the victim agrees. The police assistance line will have a significant impact on police responses. In Campbelltown the trial produced a 37 per cent reduction in police response times. Put simply, PAL will put more police back on the street. The Police Service estimates that approximately 650,000 hours of police time per year will be freed up. That translates into an extra 500 police on the street fighting crime.
The police assistance line is part of this Government’s commitment to smarter and better policing. I stress that the 000 emergency call system will continue to operate. However, many of the current problems experienced through the inappropriate use of the 000 system should be overcome through PAL. That is why part of the PAL roll-out will include an advertising campaign to educate the public about the correct use of PAL and 000. The Government has delivered on its commitments in relation to police strength. That is in stark contrast to the coalition, which delivered just over half of what it promised. Currently, there are record numbers of numbers of police in New South Wales.
Mr Armstrong: Where?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Leader of the National Party to order. I call the honourable member for Lane Cove to order. I call the honourable member for Northcott to order.
Mr WHELAN: If the Leader of the National Party asks me a question, I will tell him. The Auditor-General acknowledged that in his report. The actual police strength at the front-line, local area commands, has increased by almost 2,000 since November 1994. Police response times are recorded on the computerised incidents dispatch system, or CIDS. That system has had some weaknesses. Its capacity to accurately measure response times was poor, and data has not been readily available to local area commanders. That has been a major obstacle to accountability. Without proper information systems, local area commanders cannot manage or be accountable for response times. Today I can also
advise the House that funding has been provided in the current financial year to upgrade the CIDS system to improve and overcome both of those problems. The cost of this upgrade is almost $1 million. It will be completed by 1 December this year.
I should add that the new $27 million digital police radio network is also part of the strategy. The Auditor-General recommended that the Police Service develop a business case for computer terminals in cars. I can advise the House that in the current financial year $1 million will be spent purchasing in-car computer terminals. Installation of computer terminals in cars will mean that police can enter critical information about crimes, whilst out on the road, directly onto the main computer. That will reduce police time spent in the station and increase police time on the streets fighting crime. It will also improve recording of response times and overcome radio congestion. I have said before in this House that the Carr Government is committed to best practice policing by ensuring an efficient and effective use of police resources. The measures that I have outlined today, namely, PAL and the upgrade to CIDS and computer terminals in cars, are all part of the Government’s plan to improve response times.