Several small communities in New South Wales have been left without police officers because their residences are unsafe to live in.
Hundreds of older police properties have been found to be contaminated with asbestos and lead paint.
The town of Ungarie, in the NSW central west, has not had a permanent police officer for 18-months, because the police residence is contaminated with asbestos.
Instead, the town is being serviced by officers from West Wyalong, more than half an hour away.
Residents say the lack of police officers has led to an increase in crime in the community.
Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.
AUDIO: Listen to the full report (AM)
“Once there was no police presence in the town, some of the hoons started to play up,” said Neville Lane, who is leading the campaign.
“There’s been three or four officers that have been prepared to come to Ungarie, but they’ve been stopped because of the fact of the condition of the residence.”
Mr Lane is leading a community campaign calling for a police presence to be returned to the town, which has a population of around 350 people.
He says around 265 people have signed a petition.
Following the petition, locals have been told a residence will be re-established and a permanent officer returned.
Unliveable accommodation ‘a widespread issue’
Several smaller towns are also being serviced by outside stations, but police claim the system is working well.
“We haven’t had any issues to date,” said Assistant Police Commissioner Gary Worboys.
“But I’m well aware that there’s an importance of having a police visibility and police presence in every country town, no matter how small those towns are.”
In the town of Quandialla, the police station is in the process of being sold off. It was closed in 2009 because the adjoining house was considered too expensive to repair.
At Wallendbeen, in the southern tablelands, the police house was replaced with a transportable home after it was condemned.
The mayor of the Harden Shire says it is a widespread issue.
“At least ours are liveable, but in other areas they’re not so lucky,” said mayor Chris Manchester.
Mr Manchester says he wrote to the NSW Minister for Police after hearing about the costs associated with replacing the transportable home.
“I think it was somewhere in the vicinity of, getting up towards half a million dollars, which we thought was totally exorbitant,” he said.
Work on upgrading police sites containing asbestos is expected to cost $100 million and police are exploring alternatives.
“We’ve certainly found the building of police houses and police stations has been a costly exercise,” Mr Worboys said.
“We’re also exploring renting private rental properties for police as well.”