The NSW Police Force has announced the establishment of a new-look strike force to coordinate and review all investigations into bushfires across the state over the 2019/2020 season.
Strike Force Tronto, which is the state’s lead investigative body on suspicious or deliberately-lit bushfires, has been expanded to coordinate and collate all fire-related investigations during this unprecedented bushfire period which claimed the lives of 24 people, destroyed hundreds of millions of animals and livestock, thousands of homes, and more than five million hectares of land.
A new strike force room established at The Curtis Cheng Centre, Parramatta, will be the central base for detectives from the Financial Crimes Squad’s Arson Unit, who will be assisted by eight police from across the State Crime Command, 12 arson-trained investigators from Field Operations, six detectives from Southern Region and a NSW Rural Fire Service Liaison Officer.
Hundreds of detectives from police area commands and police districts will also be working on the ground and reporting through to Strike Force Tronto.
A data collation and investigation plan has been developed to review the cause and impacts of the more than 1700 bushfires already reported to police; and consider the 12,000 fires recorded by the Rural Fire Service since August 2019.
Strike Force Tronto investigators will also determine which bushfires are reportable to the NSW Coroner and compile complete briefs of evidence for those matters.
In addition, they will conduct coronial investigations into the 24 deaths, which will be reviewed by detectives from the Homicide Squad.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said this year’s unprecedented bushfire emergency required an unprecedented response.
“This investigative model has served the community well, through numerous severe bushfire threats,” Commissioner Fuller said.
“The disaster that has unfolded across NSW this bushfire season is unlike anything we have seen before and for that reason, requires this significantly expanded response.”
Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott said Strike Force Tronto has all the resources it needs to lead and coordinate investigations into deliberately lit or suspicious fires that have resulted in death, serious injury or property loss.
“The scale of the fires we have experienced is unparalleled. The loss of lives, homes, bushland and wildlife has been devastating,” he said.
“It is unfathomable that anyone would deliberately light a fire in these conditions, but sadly this season police have had to deal with 267 reckless people for bush-fire related offences.
“With the enhancement of Strike Force Tronto the people of NSW can be assured that police are responding to the bush fires, future coronial matters and any special inquiries with highest priority.”
State Crime Commander, Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith, said investigators will utilise state-of-the art technology to capture the scope and complexity of the fires.
“We are going to use every technological advancement available to us, including a mapping and analytics platform to allow us to reflect how widespread the impact of the fires has been,” Assistant Commissioner Smith said.
“Strike Force Tronto investigators have several months of work ahead of them as they look into the cause, origin and overall impact of the fires on behalf of the NSW Coroner.
“Members of the community will be crucial to the investigations and will be called upon over the coming months to provide mobile phone footage through a centralised recording system.
"An online interface has been developed to make reporting easier for the public, and we hope to have that website go live later today. In the meantime, the community can also always report through the Police Assistance Line on 131 444.
“The community should be reassured that police and emergency services will continue to provide every assistance possible to those in need,” Assistant Commissioner Smith said.
Since 1 August 2019, legal action – which ranges from cautions through to criminal charges – has been taken against 267 people for 328 bushfire-related offences, including: • 55 people have had legal actions over alleged deliberately-lit bushfires • 126 people have had legal actions for allegedly failing to comply with a total fire ban • 41 people have had legal actions for discarding a lighted cigarette or match on land, and • 70 juveniles have had legal actions for bushfire-related offences.
Remember that Triple Zero (000) should only be called for emergencies and life-threatening situations.
Service NSW has also established – 13 77 88 – a central contact number to assist people in bushfire areas with accommodation options, relevant charitable services, mental health and wellbeing services, registering for the clean-up, financial assistance, insurance and legal support.
Anyone with information that may assist Strike Force Tronto investigators is urged to contact Crime Stoppers: 1800 333 000 or https://nsw.crimestoppers.com.au. Information is treated in strict confidence. The public is reminded not to report crime via NSW Police social media pages.