Crime through the roof – or is it?

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By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Fresh statistics about crimes reported to the police seem to have put the kibosh on the notion that POSI – cops at bottleshops – will get our offending rate down.

 

But – and that’s a big but – a second look presents another picture altogether.

 

First, the bad news: In Alice Springs, which has POSI, the assault rate was up 22.4% in the year ending January 31, 2016.

 

In Darwin, which does not have POSI, it was down 10.5%.

 

Sexual assault, which was down 2.2% in Darwin, was up a shocking 23.3% in Alice Springs.

 

While the crime against the person rose 22.4% in Alice Springs it went down 6.3% in Darwin.

 

We were also doing badly in crime against property, up 7.1% including a whopping 17% in motor vehicle theft.

 

Darwin’s corresponding figures were down 10.8% and 21.7%, respectively.

 

And now for the not-so-bad news.

 

The bottom line, says Assistant Police Commissioner Jeanette Kerr, is that in 2014 there were “massive, massive drops” in crime. Then what we saw last year was an increase still well below the levels before POSI – in a “natural undulation” of crime statistics.

 

She says: “In the last 2015 quarter domestic violence was down after a sharp increase in the second and third quarter in that year.”

 

Police since late last year focussed on domestic violence (DV), “an absolute no tolerance approach”: An increase in staff, “cross border intel”, working with other stakeholders.

 

Assistant Commissioner Kerr says as more attention is being paid to the DV problem there are likely to be more referrals.

 

“Reductions in alcohol need not result in a reduction of DV. Taking alcohol away does not necessarily stop the number of domestic disturbances.

 

“What it does do is reduce the harm associated with these incidents. That is supported by information from the Health Department. The number of [hospital] admissions has dropped.”

 

POSI is a multi-edged sword: It encourages sly groggers and spikes in violence are often associated with that. Internet purchases have little to do with it. It’s “people who want to make a buck on the black market. They also sell cannabis and cigarettes”, says Assistant Commissioner Kerr.

 

Ice and meth play a “negligible” role in the DV scene.

 

Statistics can paint a misleading picture also in sexual assaults: Each act counts as a separate crime, even if it is committed by the same person and on the same person. The stats state not the number of cases, but the number of offences.

 
The year before was very low, so the sex offence stats are merely retuning to the usual average, says Assistant Commissioner Kerr. The numbers are also quite small: An increase from 60 to 74.

 

This is part of the POSI conundrum: When there is 100% POSI coverage, the number of break-ins into commercial premises with alcohol will go up – or into residential premises as well, where people leave doors unlocked, and to boot, leave the car keys and the wallet in a conspicuous place right next to the door.

 

And asked whether word gets around very quickly, by mobile phone, if there are no cops at a particular bottleshop, Assistant Commissioner Kerr says: “Yes.”

 

There can be no guarantees for POSI to be 100% at all times, she says: Officers can get sick, or go on a meal break, or get called away to a serious crime.

 

Assistant Commissioner Kerr says the police prosecution unit is well staffed: Four lawyers from the Department of Prosecution, nine police prosecutors and one in Tennant Creek.

 

Some hearings and trials are outsourced. The balance with the defence lawyers – some 22 in publicly funded positions in Alice Springs – is pretty well line-ball.

 

Assistant Commissioner Kerr says last calendar year the police had a conviction rate of 95%. 32,824 cases were brought before the Magistrate’s Court.

 

Of them 107 cases (0.3%) were withdrawn, 329 dismissed (1%) because witnesses didn’t turn up or there was insufficient evidence; and 1302 warrants were issued for non-appearance.

 

Alice Springs in September 2012 (just after the election) had 166 sworn officers. In February this year it had 218. The corresponding figures for Tennant Creek were 40 and 47.

 

The crime statistics are prepared by the Department of the Attorney-General and Justice using data recorded by the Northern Territory Police.

 

 

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3 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. M
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    I agree with you, Peter Cain, you’ve hit the nail right on the head. This “police at bottlos” should be a job for security guards, not police officers.

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  2. Peter Cain
    Posted March 22, 2016 at 10:21 am

    In the past three weeks, I have had three unfortunate involvements with police.
    The first was two Saturdays ago, at 5.25am. I was out working in the garden when I heard a woman screaming.
    Spend any more than a week in our part of Tennant Creek and you get used to screaming but this was different because the woman was clearly in terror. I looked over the fence and saw the woman on the other side of the park next door running and being chased by three young men.
    I called 000 and spent seven minutes on the phone to an operator in Melbourne taking details of where I lived, whether this was the best number to get me on and so forth.
    In that time, the men caught up to the woman and attacked her. It was one of the most savage attacks I have ever seen and more than two weeks later, is still leaving me sleepless.
    A single police officer arrived at 6.45. They had been busy, he said. He said he had a quick drive around but couldn’t see anything.
    While the incident happened in the half-light of dawn, the park is well lit. The men were Indigenous; the woman had pale skin and as police say when giving evidence from their notebooks, she “did not appear to have an Indigenous accent”.
    There has been no follow-up. Police did not ask me to make a statement; I put a letter in the local paper and still have heard nothing. I doubt it was even listed in PROMIS.
    The following Saturday morning, I was woken just after 4am by a strange noise. The Leader of the Opposition was still asleep but she had only been there since 3.30.
    I walked into the lounge room and saw we had been cleaned out – the usual things, grog, smokes, food, phones, laptops and the like.
    I went outside and saw six young men on the street and two “lookouts”. I recognised some of them; they taunted me by waving bottles at me and lighting smokes and blowing the smoke in my direction theatrically.
    I reported the incident to police, then began to follow them. One of them went into his house just a few doors down, the others scattered.
    There has been no follow-up from police, although they did attend.
    Last Monday, I drove to Alice to replace what was lost. I stayed that night in an inner-city motel, parking close to the CCTV camera.
    I checked on the car at 3am, all was fine. At 5am, everything was gone.
    Police did respond and already had one person in custody. They decided she was the main offender, so the box was ticked.
    Around $6000 worth of shopping disappeared, including 24 litres of alcohol, 10 cartons of smokes and 180kg of meat. I later discovered a spare fuel card had gone and had been used extensively; a spare credit card taped behind the glove box had also disappeared and been maxed out within a few hours.
    Two other vehicles in the same motel were also “interfered with” that night. Motel management said the CCTV had been broken for a couple of years but they “were thinking of getting it fixed”.
    Police told me, unofficially of course, that they had no real hope of the matter against the alleged offender even getting to court. She was from South Australia, would be bailed (if even charged) and would disappear.
    Yes, crime happens. Yes, to be involved in three incidents in 10 days is unusual.
    But that none of the three have police doing any more than ticking boxes is alarming.
    Jeanette Kerr, if contacted, will go to Chalker 101 and attempt to discredit me. She will simply say that I have “an agenda”.
    Yes, Jeanette, I do have an agenda. I want to feel safe. More importantly, I want my family to feel safe. I want to be able to sleep.
    At the start, I referred to my recent involvements with police as unfortunate. I pick up on Hal Duell’s excellent point, that the Assistant Commissioner believes the rise in sexual assaults in Alice Springs was quite small and simply “a return to normal”.
    Do any of those 74 victims believe they are simply a trivial number to police?
    My incidents were unfortunate to me because in my mind, NT Police is now a hollow shell of what it once was. I believe that Ms Kerr, and in fact everyone of Commander rank or higher, is now only interested in propping up their former colleagues who have become the Travelling Circus of the worst government in Territory history.
    I don’t want to see police in bottle shops while my house and car are broken into and while women are getting attacked.
    I want to see them doing actual policing but then again, I probably have an agenda.

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  3. Hal Duell
    Posted March 22, 2016 at 6:50 am

    From the article, “sexual assault, which was down 2.2% in Darwin, was up a shocking 23.3% in Alice Springs.”
    And then: “The numbers are also quite small: An increase from 60 to 74.”
    Funny thing, those statistics. I am reminded of a pastoral-controlled community of a couple hundred people northeast of Alice that once tried to deflect criticism of its provision of basic amenities by claiming the provision of fresh water had increased by 100% during the previous year.
    The stats were accurate. The actual number of fresh water taps had increased from one to two.

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