Commissioner Scipione sees out a year of triumphs and tragedies

TWO contrasting days in March sum up the triumph and tragedy of 2012 for the state’s police force, says NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione.

Mr Scipione describes the joy he felt watching 800 officers march down George Street to celebrate the 150 years since independent police units of the colony were amalgamated into a single force.  

The following day Senior

 Constable David Rixon was shot dead on the roadside in Tamworth while on duty. 

‘‘I remember flying up to Tamworth hours after the event and sitting in Dave’s house with his family, on the back deck and just sitting with them and thinking: ‘This is wrong, this is so wrong’,’’ Mr Scipione said.

‘‘That was a low point,’’ he said. 

Mr Scipione pauses, takes a breath and speaks about this  year’s other tragedy — Detective Inspector Bryson Anderson’s ‘‘pointless’’ death. Inspector Anderson was stabbed and killed on duty during a neighbourhood dispute in Sydney’s north-west on December 5. 

‘‘It’s incredibly sad and I still think now on that event as fresh as it is and realise that I get tinges of sadness and anger. 

‘‘I get angry that a state, that a nation, that a family [and] that a nine-year-old boy should lose their father in such a way.’’

Just as tragic was the death of Thomas Kelly, 18, who was murdered with a single punch in an unprovoked attack on his first night out in Kings Cross in July.

The death upset the teetotaller police chief who cited alcohol-fuelled crime as one of the reasons he re-signed his contract as commissioner for another four years in 2011.

‘‘People deserve to have the right to go out at night to a theatre or a restaurant and not be accosted by some dribbling drunk who wants to spoil their night; no one deserves that,’’ Mr Scipione said.

‘‘It [alcohol] causes so much grief.’’

He said he was pleased about a reduction of glassings this year, and alcohol-related assaults but it would be really tough trying to change Australia’s culture of binge drinking.

‘‘We have got a love affair with the booze and we have to fall out of love if we actually want to change things.’’

But 2012 would also be remembered for other events.

The 54-year-old St George resident cited the success of the Police Expo at Darling Harbour and the arrest and conviction of the man who tied a collar-bomb to Mosman schoolgirl Madeleine Pulver  as two of the police service’s proudest moments. 

‘‘It was so far removed from what we know here that it demanded to be dealt with and dealt with quickly and the police were simply outstanding.’’ On the subject of Tasers and the death of Brazilian student Roberto Laudisio Curti, Mr Scipione remained firm in his support for the highly scrutinised weapons.

‘‘I think they are here to stay. They must stay. I am sure they have saved people’s lives.’’ 

He said the stun guns had prevented the death of a man who otherwise would have been shot when he threatened to kill two nurses with a knife at Bathurst Base Hospital in December. 

‘‘In any other circumstances police would not have had many other options but to resort to a firearm. Nothing  good comes from the use of a police firearm.’’

Or any firearm for that matter.

Speaking the day after 28-year-old Bachir Arja was shot dead outside his Punchbowl home, Mr Scipione stressed most public place shootings had links to organised crime.

‘‘By and large these types of incidents involve drugs, turf and organised crime figures are at the forefront.’’ 

He noted there were two spikes in gun crime this year — in February and June/July — but said the numbers were relatively stable as shown in a recent report by NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. 

Looking towards 2013, he laughs loudly and leans into his chair when asked if he would confirm his rumoured retirement next year. His contract runs until 2015.

Mr Scipione would not be drawn on the subject.

     ‘‘No one knows what’s around the corner,’’ he repeatedly said with a grin.

‘‘I’m in my sixth year as the police commissioner and by and large that is getting towards the end of the use-by-date for any police commissioner but we’ll see what happens.’’

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