Pubdate: Sun, 09 Aug 1998
Source: Sunday Times (UK) 
Author: Paul Ham, Sydney


THE west Sydney suburb of Bankstown had slid into anarchy. Blighted by
Australia's highest rate of thefts, muggings, break-ins, assaults and
drug-related offences, it had become a place where police patrol cars were
attacked by angry youths and teenagers offered to kill officers for a fee.

Like many of Sydney's most crime-ridden areas, however, Bankstown is
struggling back, under the eye of a British-born veteran of the Met, Norfolk
and Greater Manchester constabularies. Derided as an interfering Pom when he
arrived two years ago, Peter Ryan, the police commissioner of New South
Wales, has become a local hero for cleaning up Sydney ahead of the 2000

"Some of these youths are so blatant they'll deal [drugs] right in front of
you," said Ryan, 54, who makes a point of visiting the worst areas - such as
Bankstown, where he was welcomed by taxi drivers and shop owners as the man
who had given them back their streets when he visited last week.

Fifty extra officers have been seconded to the district in a five-month
swoop on drug-related offences. Arrests have doubled over the past month,
and the drab railway station, the meeting point for The Bankstown Boys, a
local Lebanese gang, is now all but deserted.

It was not always this way. When Ryan, born in Lancashire, first arrived,
there were fast and furious calls of "Pommie go home" from both the press
and the NSW police association. "I was the sport of the moment," said Ryan.

He clashed with Paul Whelan, the state police minister, over his strategy to
deal with hard drugs, and caused anger among ethnic groups when he suggested
that drug crime in NSW had strong links to the Vietnamese, Chinese and
Lebanese communities.

Ryan, however, has got results. His most successful crackdown, in the Sydney
suburb of Cabramatta, one of the worst in Australia for drug-related crimes,
reduced home break-ins by 63% and robberies by 40%, according to police.

"In Cabramatta, we've been arresting about 30 drug dealers a day for
months," he said. In the Sydney city centre, too, Ryan claims to have
cleared the streets of muggers and thieves.

It has been a gruelling process. To clear up places like Cabramatta and
Bankstown, the former chief constable of Norfolk first had to reform one of
the most demoralised police forces in the world. Pursuing a policy of New
York-style "zero tolerance" towards crime and corruption, Ryan sacked 20
officers and suspended another 150. A royal commission had accused the NSW
police of corruption on an unprecedented scale: complicity with criminals in
armed hold-ups, drug-running, prostitution, warning criminals of pending
police activity and contract killings.

The allegations were so damning that 11 policemen facing exposure for their
criminal links had committed suicide and dozens had resigned by the time the
commission ended its three-year inquiry last year. In the circumstances, it
was deemed prudent to recruit an outsider to sort out the mess.

Ryan describes his reforms as a total "re-engineering" of the old
colonial-style service that has its origins in the "Rum Corps" of the 18th
century, replacing inward-looking squads with "crime agencies" focused on
fraud, organised crime, drugs, murders and paedophilia. Area commanders are
now grilled each month on their effectiveness by senior officers, who are
also responsible for dealing with any weaknesses that are uncovered.

"We're not just calling the police to account for themselves," said Ryan.
"We're trying - and here we differ from New York - to devise solutions."

Despite having won over the suspicious locals, Ryan's British origins could
still prove a problem, however, if Australians vote in a proposed referendum
to sever links with the monarchy. "The deference to the Queen among
Australians has gone and I think that is a good thing," said Ryan.

With three years left to run on his contract, though, he has no immediate
plans to return home.

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Checked-by: Melodi Cornett