NSW Police Minister Yasmin Catley has denied the force has a culture problem despite a string of high-profile cases, including the death of 95-year-old Clare Nowland after she was Tasered by an officer.
In her first press conference since the aged care resident who suffered from dementia was Tasered last month, Catley faced a barrage of questions over a series of incidents which have raised questions about the police in NSW.
Calling policing “a very dangerous occupation”, Catley defended officers as “very well-trained” and said “they are doing the job that we ask them to do and that is to keep our community safe”.
Besides the Nowland case, police have also faced criticism over the death of Sydney woman Tatiana Dokhotaru, whose body was located almost 24 hours after a woman called triple zero over fears she was being assaulted. Two other officers – Ryan Barlow and Jay Maleckas – have also been convicted in the past month over separate high-profile assault cases.
Most recently, questions have been raised over how mentally ill father Wayne Smith had his firearm licence revoked and then reinstated before he shot and killed his 15-year-old son in the north coast town of Yamba last week.
The government has launched a review of the incident, and tasked Police Commissioner Karen Webb and Health Secretary Susan Pearce with conducting a review of the interaction between the firearms licensing regime and mental illness.
Catley on Thursday conceded that in Smith’s case changes may be needed. She flagged the potential for police or health personnel to conduct more rigorous checks on people who have firearm licences reinstated after a mental health crisis.
“We want to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” she said. “And I think that’s really what we need to focus on [in this case] the regulation was adhered to through having a medical practitioner, but yeah, sure, we need to do more.”
Catley was again unsure of the specific gun licence held by Smith, but said it was held “in accordance with the regulation”.
“It was taken off him in accordance with the regulation and given back to him again in accordance with the regulation, and that was on the advice obviously of a medical professional,” she said.
“I think that we need to look at the correlation between a firearm license and mental health … to look at any procedures or processes that we might be able to change to make sure that we don’t see that happen again.
“Mental health, as we all know, is very difficult, but I think that there is an opportunity here that we might be able to make some change in a timely way.”
Following a rocky first two months in the portfolio, Catley also insisted she retained confidence in Webb despite criticism of her refusal to watch body camera footage of Nowland’s Tasering, calling it an “operational matter”.
“The police commissioner has explained herself very well there, and she has said it could pre-empt judgement further down the track, so I think we have to take the commissioner at her word there,” she said.
Earlier on Thursday Premier Chris Minns said in hindsight Smith should “clearly not, self-evidently not” have had his firearms licence reinstated.
“It’s a terrible domestic violence murder. It’s such a terrible event. I think anyone who saw it and has heard about it since and read the coverage in the days since would have enormous sorrow for the family of that little boy, who has obviously been taken and murdered,” he said.
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