Andrew Scipione — the man in charge of Australia’s biggest police force — isn’t just a cop. He’s a miracle worker. His officers revere him, the public trusts him, and he’s the first NSW police chief in two decades to be appointed by both sides of politics. He’s even managed the modern-day equivalent of turning water into wine: winning over the law-and-order tub-thumpers at 2GB and The Daily Telegraph.
Skippy, as he’s affectionately known, has one of the toughest and most important jobs in Australia. He runs the fourth-largest police force in the Western world and serves a population of seven million people.
“The NSW Police Commissioner is probably the most influential non-politician in the country,” says former NSW Police detective Tim Priest. “He can change social behaviour through his policies; that’s something very few people can do.”
But Scipione isn’t just our most powerful law enforcer because of the position he holds: it’s his personality, performance and popularity that set him apart from the pack.
Former Labor premier Kristina Keneally describes him as “smart, politically astute and an excellent police officer”. Premier Barry O’Farrell, who reappointed Scipione for a second four-year term in September, has praised him as “a straight shooter, someone who makes decision without fear or favour, someone who has always made decisions on the basis of public interest”.
Scipione’s predecessor, Ken Moroney, has called him “one of the most decent men, the most ethical men that I have ever met”.
Priest, who’s never been shy about criticising past police chiefs, says: “I think he’s a hell of a nice bloke and a decent human being. I’m certain he’s got the best interests of his police officers and the community at heart … he’s a breath of fresh air.”
Law-and-order issues barely rated a mention in the March NSW election — a testament to Scipione’s success since becoming commissioner in 2007. Crime rates in all 17 major categories are either stable or falling, according to the latest statistics. “NSW is performing better than any other state and is a model for the rest of the world,” NSW Police Association president Scott Weber tells The Power Index.
Scipione’s biggest triumph has been leading a three-year crackdown on alcohol-fuelled violence — an issue that had been on the back burner until he came into office. He forced the pollies to take it seriously with a simple –and devastatingly effective — pitch: alcohol plays a part in 70% of street crime and the problem can only by solved by restricting trading hours at violent pubs and clubs.
Then-premier Morris Iemma responded by trialling a a lockout system at 14 venues in the Newcastle CBD; the night-time assault rate there dropped by 37%. Scipione had pushed for the pubs to close at 2am, but Iemma opted for a 2am lockout and 3am close.
“Scipione didn’t complain when he failed to get his way, didn’t go to the media, didn’t stamp his foot,” Iemma tells The Power Index. “And as a result, he was able to get more when the policy worked.”
Iemma’s successor, Nathan Rees, went further by forcing the state’s most violent venues to lock their doors at 2am and serve alcohol in plastic cups after midnight. The crackdown has led to an average decline of more than 10 after-midnight assaults each month, according to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics.
Scipione himself is a teetotaller and a regular church goer, but he’s adamant he’s not a wowser. It was an unprovoked glassing against a police officer two months into his first term that sparked his crusade, not his personal distaste for alcohol.