Exclusive: NSW police nets almost $13 million in seven months for hiring out off-duty officers

Weeks after multiple NSW music festivals were cancelled, citing the prohibitive costs of additional police services, SBS News can reveal the revenue received by NSW Police Force for “user pays” policing has increased significantly over the past decade.

The NSW Police Force raked in almost $13 million in just seven months by providing off-duty, uniformed, officers to private events - just weeks after two NSW music festivals were forced to cancel, citing the prohibitive cost of “user pays” policing.

According to figures, obtained exclusively by SBS News under the Government Information (Public Access) Act, NSW police generated $12,896,828 in revenue over the first seven months of 2018/19 under the user pays scheme, which allows off-duty police officers to be hired out to private events such as music festivals, sporting events and parades to provide additional security services at the organisers’ cost.

New figures reveal the number of police officers being employed in user pays capacity is growing.
Source: Getty Images

In the 2017/18 and 2016/17 financial years, NSW police received $21,486,215 and $16,722,564 respectively, and assuming the same amount of dollars per month continues, the NSW Police Force could stand to make more than $22 million this year by providing additional security to events.

A spokesperson for NSW police told SBS News it does not profit from these services.

But event organisers say they have been unfairly targeted by an NSW government crackdown on music festivals, leaving them at the mercy of inconsistent user pay fees that are driving them out of business.

Director of Rabbits Eat Lettuce, which runs the Bohemian Beatfreaks festival, Eric Lamir-Pyke told SBS News that quotes they had received for policing were “completely all over the place”.

In November last year, organisers of the three-day festival say they were quoted $200,000 for “user pays” services, weeks after police withdrew earlier support of the event and attempted to shut it down, a move defeated in the Land and Environment court.

A police officer with a sniffer dog questions a Splendour in the Grass ticket holder in 2018.
Source: Getty Images

Mr Lamir-Pyke said they had previously been quoted $16,000 for the 3000 person event, which was set to be held at a private property near Casino in Northern NSW, a number which was in line with what they had paid in previous years.

“It's obvious there's no consistency in regulation in terms of how many police is suited to what size crowd,” Mr Lamir-Pyke said.

The quote was later reduced to $105,847 but organisers made the last minute decision to move the festival three hours away to Queensland. 

According to the NSW Police Force Cost Recovery and User Charges Policy, the number of user pays police required for a particular event is dependent on a number of factors including size, venue, the age of attendees, alcohol availability, experience at similar events, time and private security arrangements.

“I know of another festival … near the Murray River and their event is three times the capacity of ours, runs for the same amount of days, and I know they're paying $20,000,” Mr Lamir-Pyke said.

“And then for them to whack a $200,000 bill for us when that capacity hasn't changed or anything, it's obvious that they don't think that we need that many police, it's obvious that it's a tactic to shut the event down.”

Protesters hold signs during the Don't Kill Live Music Rally in Sydney in February.
Source: AAP

Earlier this year, Psyfari and Mountain Sounds Festival were cancelled weeks out from the events, sparking a campaign to save live music in NSW

In a February Facebook post announcing the cancellation of the Central Coast event, Mountain Sounds organisers said they too had been quoted $200,000 for 45 “user pays” police officers, who would work on a 24-hour schedule. 

They said they received this quote a week out from when the festival was meant to take place.

According to organisers, the 2019 event was going to be smaller than the previous year, which had 16,000 attendees and required just 11 off duty police officers.

How much does it cost?
Source: SBS News

A week later, Psyfari organisers posted that “increased costs in running events” had led them to cancel their long-running festival.

“Festivals with a ticket price of $500 are also not what we had in mind, but it seems likely that this is the way things are going, with one of the government’s best weapons being the ability to force excessive costs onto events in order to phase them out,” the statement, posted on Facebook, read.

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In October 2018, NSW Police Minister Troy Grant said the NSW Police Force had been paid $89,802 for “user pays” police at Defcon.1 festival, where two people were killed following suspected drug overdoses.

The NSW government has the ability to waive part or all of user pay fees if the event is deemed in the “state or national significance”.

The Don't Kill Live Music Rally in February. Some music festival organisers believe they are being unfairly targeted by the government.
Source: AAP

According to figures published by NSW police, a single police officer costs $116.19 per hour (or $176.73 if hired at short notice). Mounted police, sniffer dogs, vehicles and bicycles all cost extra.

Police officers are able to volunteer for shifts outside of their usual roster.

Revenue from user pays policing on the rise

New figures also reveal the number of police officers being employed in this capacity is growing.

In the 2018/19 financial year, up to January 31, 13,096 officers worked in a “user pays” capacity. In 2017/18 it was 23,610 officers and 19,492 in the year before that.

According to a Sydney Morning Herald report from 2008, in the 2007/08 financial year the NSW Police Force received just $5.4 million under the policy, which was first introduced four years earlier.

Five years later, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that this number had increased to $8.5 million in the 2012/13 financial year - a five-year rise of just over $3 million.

In the five years between 2013 and 2018, however, the annual revenue of user pays policing has increased by $13 million.

Former NSW Police Force detective and head of Western Sydney University’s policing program Dr Michael Kennedy said the user pays scheme was in keeping with the government’s wider economic policy.

“The social contract that once existed with things like health, policing, education and transport is now a business. It’s value for money at every turn,” he said.

“The people who would decide on the number of people needed [for an event] would be specialist advisors and they probably would be advising government on all sorts of issues.”

He said the people giving advice on what level of policing is needed were “probably not even from the police department”.

A spokesperson for the NSW Police Force told SBS News they liaise with client organisations and local governments when determining risk factors.

"Any increase or decrease in the cost of the 'user pays' program is determined in accordance with demand by client organisations," they said. 

"The NSW Police Force user pays program is a not-for-profit function. The monies paid to NSW Police recover the cost of personnel and resources used."

Both Dr Kennedy and Mr Lamir-Pyke believe the “user pays” scheme should not exist at all.

“We're creating jobs, we're supporting small businesses, everyone that comes to pays tax. They pay tax on the way, they pay tax on their employment income, they pay tax when they buy a ticket through GST,” Mr Lamir-Pyke said.

“So it's all of it all contributing to the economy. So why are we having to pay for police twice?”

Mr Grant said decisions about user-pays policing were made by the NSW Police Force and declined to comment.

Published 26 March 2019 at 3:49pm, updated 26 March 2019 at 4:10pm
By Maani Truu