Hundreds of NSW Police are being exposed to positive Covid cases while performing their duties.
Hundreds of NSW Police officers are being forced into isolation and some have been infected as frontline duties expose them to COVID-19 cases in Sydney and across the state.
With officers deemed close contacts of positive cases spending two weeks isolated, as required by public health orders, the disruptions are adding to the challenges already facing overworked police who have been enforcing pandemic response measures on top of regular duties.
Of 17,700 officers statewide, up to 400 at any one time have been in isolation and in some cases sick with COVID-19 over recent weeks, according to multiple sources granted anonymity to discuss the internal staffing matters.
While NSW Police is well-resourced, COVID-19 exposure has affected numbers at locations across Sydney, from the south-west to the eastern suburbs, as well as the state crime command squads investigating high-level crime, police sources said.
In one incident, three officers were forced into isolation after they conducted a search at the home of a senior Comanchero bikie who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.
Tarek Zahed, the national sergeant-at-arms of the Comanchero bikie gang, has been so severely affected by the virus that he was hospitalised and received oxygen therapy.
On August 21, officers attached to the criminal groups squad carried out a firearm prohibition order search at Mr. Zahed's inner west home, where he lives with his family.
Two days earlier, police also issued him, his two brothers and an associate with fines for public health order breaches after they were found walking together around 2 am in Drummoyne on the Bay Run.
After Mr. Zahed's wife and child were confirmed as COVID-19 cases, three officers who came into contact with them during the search were deemed close contacts but tested negative. A fourth was deemed a casual contact and also tested negative.
Other officers have not been so lucky. A police source said a few officers, numbering in the low double digits, have been infected while carrying out their duties. A larger number have also contracted the virus following contact with cases at home or while off-duty.
In addition to enforcement of public health orders and staffing hotel quarantine, officers are still doing regular law enforcement. Many people encountered by police during regular duties, particularly in the local government areas of concern in Sydney, are also found to be positive cases.
In one case, a custody officer contracted the virus following contact with an infected prisoner.
Contact with positive cases has hit stations in Sydney's east hard, with at least two infections among officers and dozens of staff having been isolated.
One officer said infection exposure "wipes out" many staff members and drains resources as people relieve in roles and take on extra duties.
Another said any depletion of staff presented a problem and the issue could get more serious, but it was being effectively managed.
"It has been a fairly stable number but if that number doubled you'd start to see some problems," the source said.
Another source said local police commands were well-resourced and could handle the disruptions without operations being severely affected. If it reached a critical level, officers from neighbouring commands can be brought in to assist.
A NSW Police spokesperson said affected staff, including those identified as close and casual contacts, were managed according to public health orders.
"The NSW Police force has a highly mobile workforce with the capability to quickly deploy officers as required, ensuring business continuity arrangements are in place," the spokesperson said.
The extensive use of personal protective equipment in high-risk situations has likely prevented more infections among officers.
Officers across the state have shouldered extra workloads, causing fatigue and testing morale, and the number of people being forced into isolation could exacerbate the issue.
Last week, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said the force had gone 20 months without any positive COVID-19 cases among officers.
"Thankfully, all of the [infected] officers are in OK health," Mr. Fuller said.
As of last week, 12,000 out of 17,000 officers were fully vaccinated.