By KIERAN FINNANE
At tomorrow’s meeting of stakeholders about alcohol issues in Alice Springs, we can expect that all the facts will be on the table. But the public will be in the dark about at least one of them: the number of protective custodies this year compared to last. That will become public knowledge later this month, when the NT Police Annual Report is tabled, but until then NT Police are declining to release the figures.
It is also clear that one of the major stakeholders invited to the meeting, the Alice Springs Town Council, has had no time to formulate a position on the issues. Mayor Damien Ryan said this morning he was still awaiting an agenda for the meeting. His first knowledge of the meeting was a media release by Ms Lambley on Wednesday last week – two days after the most recent council meeting.
Meanwhile, the Alice Springs News Online asked for protective custodies statistics following a reader’s post which suggested that they had halved this winter compared to last, evidence that the Banned Drinkers Register (rolled out from July last year and with 2491 people on it as at June 30, 2012) was taking effect. However, we have been fobbed off, with a police spokesperson saying that the information would take “some time to compile” even though it will be in the shortly-to-be-released annual report.
If protective custodies have indeed been halved, it could be worth having a rethink about the Banned Drinkers Register (BDR). There should be no room for policy-making according to anecdote and articles of faith in this area.
The sheer volume of protective custodies in Alice Springs was emphasised by Coroner Greg Cavanagh in his Briscoe Inquest findings, with Alice Springs accounting for nearly half of the NT’s protective custodies in the 12 months ending April 30 2012. Mr Cavanagh described the statistics as “one of the boldest indicators of the resource drain caused by excess consumption”. He described as “simply unacceptable” the situation where “Police Officers in Alice Springs spend half their time on duty picking up ‘protective custodies'”. This was the demoralising, depressing backdrop to the events leading to the death of Kwementyaye Briscoe.
If there have indeed been significantly fewer protective custodies this winter, it could be that the BDR was starting to constrain heavy drinking, with a “critical mass” (as our reader suggested) of problem drinkers finding it difficult to obtain their grog. Apart from the benefits to them and their friends and families, that would leave room for the Police to be getting on with their other duties.
We’ll know more “between the third and fourth week of October”, according to the time advised by the police spokesperson for the tabling of the annual report.