YOU can always tell when a state election is imminent because the NSW cops suddenly become furiously proactive.
On past form, an unusually large number of raids will take place in the next few weeks and no expense will be spared to obtain photographs and footage of all the excitement.
The media will be flooded with pro-police stories, while the Police Association of NSW will start menacing politicians with a shopping list of new laws, more specialised equipment, extra recruitment and even more generous working conditions.
For the past 16 years of Labor rule, the high-pressure tactic has worked. Whatever the police wanted, they got because the government was determined to keep the cops “on side”.
Former premier Bob Carr had a simple electoral rule: don't let the Liberals outflank us on law and order. Thus the police received Glocks, Tasers, helicopters, a water cannon and much more.
Today police enjoy shift arrangements, flexitime, overtime, sick pay, injury allowances and pensions which are enough to make the average teacher, nurse, fireman, “ambo” and bus and train driver weep.
Their overtime bill last year was $35 million, or 3.3 per cent of the annual wages bill, and more than 4000 officers each logged up 340 hours of annual leave.
The force has an authorised strength of 12,300 officers, but more than 2000 are not at work because they are on sick leave, holidays or restricted duties.
The force's liability for partial and permanent incapacity claims has grown by more than $100 million in the past four years, a rise of 118 per cent, while the number of claims paid out increased by 315 per cent.
M'learned friends at the industrial bar have a legal term for this activity – a rort.
The lobbying of the Police Association is up there with the Australian Hotels Association, the Urban Taskforce (the developers' trade union), the Law Society and broadcaster Alan Jones.
I cannot recall a single instance in the past 10 years when a government minister or backbencher from Labor or the Coalition has criticised the police. Because they can do no wrong and have an immunity from criticism, a minority element treat politicians, Parliament and ultimately the public with a kind of contempt.
There were more than 5000 complaints against the police last year, according to the NSW Ombudsman, an average of about 14 a day, and 95 officers were charged with 300 offences, including assault, drink-driving, child pornography and drug-related crimes.
The tragic lesson of Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia is that police misconduct and corruption flourish under rudderless governments.