by Tarah Hodgkinson
For years we have shown the power of locally created solutions to solve entrenched crime problems, even when those problems do not have an obvious explanation. This is especially the case when neighbourhoods have the benefit of targeted research and prevention programs to use in their safety planning. This is the essence of the SafeGrowth planning method.
I spent some time a few weeks ago in Northern Queensland facilitating a conversation with local stakeholders, community agencies and police to address an increase in assaults, particularly alcohol-fuelled assaults. There didn’t seem to be an obvious explanation (increases in tourism, etc) as to why.
The first reality in understanding such problems is that any change in crime rates in the past year must be considered in light of the impact of COVID-19 on crime. Many of those impacts show up in our blogs such as de-policing in Denver, social distancing in Victoria, and exceptional event theories.
More often than not, police-reported incidents declined dramatically during the initial lockdown period and most have returned to pre-pandemic levels. However, this is subject to how officials implement lockdowns and the kind of restrictions they put in place. In the case of assaults in Northern Queensland, this increase was a part of a ten-year trend.
In recent years, different states across Australia have implemented some significant policy and legislation changes to address night-time assaults in entertainment districts. These include “lockout laws” in certain districts called Safe Night Precincts. In these locations, they reduce alcohol serving time by two hours and ban the sale of takeaway alcohol after 10:00pm and the sale of shots after midnight.
Some precincts have introduced Risk-Based Licensing (RBL) which requires establishments to pay licensing fees that reflect the venue’s propensity to create harm. This is intended to encourage venues to improve safe service practices and reduce violence on their premises.
As complaints emerged about the loss of income, legislators rolled back many of these approaches in favour of ID-scanners to ensure underage patrons were unable to enter these precincts.
Over and above the loss of income to these areas, strategies produced mixed results in terms of crime. Recent studies of the lockout laws indicate that they have yet to show a decline in alcohol-related assault.
Furthermore, they may create displacement to precincts that don’t have these requirements. In addition, some studies have found that these legislative changes also result in patrons arriving at the precinct more intoxicated and later in the evening, impacting the level of control the venue has for reducing harm. Unfortunately, RBL’s have yet to demonstrate a decline in alcohol-related harm.
So then, what works?
Unsurprisingly, research suggests that multi-stakeholder strategies are most effective in reducing alcohol-related assaults. This includes coalition building to bring together volunteers and leaders across the community. They have produced some impressive results, including:
This strategy – Community Trials to Reduce High-Risk Drinking (RHRD) – shows success in multiple sites in reducing alcohol-related assaults, sexual assaults and motor vehicle crashes.
Rather than simply implementing broad sweeping legislation, the success of RHRD is a result of clearly identifying the problem and developing a local solution with all necessary stakeholders. This is unsurprising considering the success we see with SafeGrowth strategies in neighbourhoods around the world.
When local leaders come together, discuss the problem, identify a solution and work collaboratively to implement that solution, we see amazing results. Based on these successes, community leaders in parts of Northern Queensland are starting the same process across the region.