The Daily Advertiser: NSW/Victorian border reopens in a ‘bitter-sweet’ end to huge police operation


AFTER more than four grueling months of long hours away from loved ones, the NSW Police border operation has come to an end.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of the NSW border to Victoria on July 8, 2020, taking more than 14,000 police officers from right across the state to man the 27 border checkpoints, multiple of which fell below the Riverina district.ADVERTISING

On Monday, November 23, the borders re-opened and the mammoth effort came to and end.

One man who oversaw the entire operation was the Police Association of NSW Lead Organiser Jon Goddard, who said the experience would not soon be forgotten.

“This has been the biggest and longest ongoing operation we’ve seen, and to be honest, many of those involved absolutely loved it,” he said.

“I think the variety had a certain appeal. Police from my generation got to experience events like the Sydney Olympics and things like that where you could work in different locations and travel, but we haven’t had anything like that really until now so those younger police members are experiencing it all for the first time.”

But Mr Goddard said the operation was not without its challenges.

“I don’t think we’ll miss a few of the challenges that kicked on,” he said.

“Many started in freezing cold conditions and now have finished up in blistering heat, and some had to have both the summer and winter uniform packs on the same deployment, so it was tough.”

Many of the regional NSW deployments like that at Albury or Mulwala gave metro police a glimpse into rural life, according to Mr Goddard.

“I honestly think that country recruitment will increase since having that taste of what country lifestyle is really like,” he said.

“They have all the benefits of a bigger town or city, but they’re totally different to Sydney.

“People saw coffees being delivered from the locals, firewood on cold nights, and even one stinking hot day we had a lady pull up and hand out a bag of frozen ice blocks, but when you’re in the city bouncing from one job to another, you just don’t get that hospitality.”

More than 100,000 police shifts were completed over the operation, with an average of 500 police officers manning checkpoints along the border each day.

While 80 per cent of travellers at checkpoints were locals living in border towns, the operation saw numerous troublemakers.

A total of 17 Penalty Infringement Notices and seven charges were laid in relation to border control directions during the operation.

Almost 800 traffic infringements were issued, and more than 70 charges were laid for a range of offences, including drug supply, weapon possession and drink driving. Operation stats

Seeing the operation finally come to an end was bitter-sweet, according to Mr Goddard.

“As the operation went on, it really was flowing beautifully, the accommodation was great, the meals were great, and so the guys were happy to roll on down there for their deployments,” he said.

“I know that a lot will miss jumping on the bus or train or plane and heading down to the border, but as much as members have enjoyed going down, we hope we never have to do that again.”

PANSW executive member Oliver Behrens was one of the thousands of staff manning border checkpoints.

After spending multiple weeks at the Mulwala checkpoint over two deployments, Mr Behrens said the experience was unique.

“Most of us have never done anything like this before,” he said.

“We’ve been working in a completely different environment with different goals and tasks.”

 The local residents were what made the operation a positive experience, according to Mr Behrens.

“The people were extremely generous and friendly, and really patient with us too considering their normally five minute trips would sometimes be turned into a 20 minute wait or longer,” he said.

Mr Behrens said while it was a life-changing experience, it’s not one he’d like to see repeated.

“I think we are all glad it has come to an end and that such restrictions are no longer needed,” he said.

“We hope we never have to do this under these circumstances again.”

At the commencement of the operation, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller appointed Assistant Commissioner Scott Whyte as the Operation Commander and Superintendent Paul Smith as the Forward Commander.

Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott said the government had been focused on responding to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic since the start of the crisis.

“The border closures have been an extraordinarily difficult decision to make, but I cannot commend highly enough the dedication and professionalism of both NSW Police officers and our Australian Defence Force officers who have implemented the operational responses to limit the spread of the virus between NSW and its surrounding states,” he said.

NSW Police Force Commissioner Mick Fuller said the operation had undoubtedly saved lives by preventing the spread of COVID-19 into NSW.

“From day one we said this would be a dynamic operation, and I am proud of the job our officers, in partnership with ADF members, have done in protecting the people of this state,” he said.

“Some have travelled long distances to be here, often for weeks at a time in difficult conditions, manning dozens of checkpoints, while acting in line with the health advice and making sure our community is protected.”

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