Booze, guns and the loss of two good men
Rattled … alcohol-fuelled crime is one of the reasons the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, signed a contract for another four years. Photo: Jacky Ghossein
THE lines on the face of the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, contort ever so briefly as he pauses to reflect on 2012.
One sunny day in March, he explains, he was bursting with pride as he watched 800 officers march down George Street to celebrate the 150 years since the independent police units of the colony were amalgamated into a single force.
But the next day, a close-knit policing community was rocked by the death of one of its own, highway patrol officer Senior Constable David Rixon, shot dead on a 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 says.
''That was a low point.''
Mr Scipione pauses, takes a breath and speaks about this year's other tragedy - Detective Inspector Bryson Anderson's ''pointless'' death.
Detective 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 killed with a single punch in an unprovoked attack on his first night out in Kings Cross in July.
The death rattled the teetotaller police chief, who cites alcohol-fuelled crime as one of the reasons he 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 says. ''It [alcohol] causes so much grief.''
He says he is pleased about a reduction in glassings this year, and of alcohol-related assaults, but concedes it will be 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.''
The past year has clearly taken its toll on Mr Scipione, who is also keen to point out other highlights, including the arrest and conviction of the man who tied a mock collar-bomb to Mosman schoolgirl Madeleine Pulver.
''That type of crime is so far removed from what we in Australia would expect to see and yet it happened,'' he says.
''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 stun guns and the death of Brazilian student Roberto Laudisio Curti, Mr Scipione remains 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 … Nothing good comes from the use of a police firearm.''
Or any firearm for that matter.
A spike of drive-by shootings this year has been a mainstay of the news headlines, but Mr Scipione stresses most public shootings have links to organised crime.
Referring to the most recent killing, of Bachir ''Barry'' Arja in Punchbowl, he says it was a targeted, organised shooting.
''The reality is this wasn't just someone who had a knock at the door and was shot dead. By and large these types of incidents involve drugs, turf and organised crime figures are at the forefront,'' he says.
He notes there were two spikes in gun crime this year - in February and June/July - but says the numbers are relatively stable, as shown in a recent report by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.
Looking towards 2013, he laughs loudly and leans into his chair when asked if he will confirm rumours of his retirement.
On whether he will honour his contract to 2015, he says he cannot be drawn on it but repeatedly says with a grin, ''no one knows what's around the corner''.
''When I signed the contract I intended to stay for the period but, again, if you look at how volatile this profession is, we don't know what tomorrow will bring,'' he says.
''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.''