In an open letter to Melbourne’s Lord Mayor and councillors, Nightclub Owners Forum convenor Peter Iwaniuk argues that a more strategic approach must be adopted to policing and public safety.

“The media is once again having a field day on crime and assault statistics in the CBD.

Unfortunately Victoria Police have not responded well to media criticism, so much so that the Ombudsman has once again been called in to investigate.

Council is urged to take a leadership role in developing a more strategic approach to how the police and security forces could operate in the city based on improved crime intelligence.

So long as the media is able to exploit inconsistencies in the way in which Victoria Police record and report crime statistics, unnecessary public fear and confusion is generated, and the risk of a further over-reaction from Government against licensed venues is heightened.

Council is also unable to develop any effective social strategies without accurate and timely knowledge.

As Lord Mayor you recently publicly acknowledged on radio 3AW that you were totally in the dark as to increased rates of assault in car parks, railway stations etc in Melbourne.

The Nightclub Owners Forum has long highlighted the problems and inadequacies with police statistics and there are two major papers published on our website: which you may like to refer to.

Not only do we need accurate statistics, we need more qualitative statistics. For example, nightclubs operate predominantly on Saturday nights and to a lesser extent on Friday nights, yet crime statistics are only published on a weekly basis.

Accordingly it is impossible to determine which days, and times of day, are more problematic.

No doubt more crime does occur on Friday and Saturday nights but this is also when there are huge numbers of people in the City.

Proportionate to the number of people in the City, crime rates are low on these nights and, additionally, we do know that there have been significant decreases in the rate of street assaults in recent years largely due to an increased police presence.

What we don’t know is what trends are emerging on other days of the week.

Also we need to be able to better ascertain the cause, nature and location of assaults ie was the motive robbery, what assaults were gang related or involving specific ethnic groups, were weapons involved, what is the clearance rate?, etc.

It is common knowledge that wherever large numbers of people congregate, anti-social people and predators will be attracted.

By knowing the number of robberies and robbery-related assaults and the locations and times they occurred, more effective targeting of predators can occur.

There is no doubt that the Southbank precinct including Crown Casino would rate highly for predatory activity, which is no reflection on the management practices of Crown Casino, it is just a fact of life in crowded environments.

The other factor impacting on Melbourne is the huge growth in residents. Melbourne’s population is growing by many thousands of people each year.

This is placing additional pressure on police in responding to domestic violence, private house parties, etc and there is no doubt some of the more problematic residents will also create problems in the streets.

No doubt, Council possesses high quality GIS and possibly GPS mapping software, so why is this not used to produce say monthly ‘real time’ maps showing crime locations, types of crimes, and other social indicators?

This technology is not new or complicated – it has been in use in some parts of the world for some time and examples are available on our website.

The other critical factor in the current debate on City safety is whether Victoria Police can sustain current officer deployment levels and keep pace with population and visitor growth, as well as patrol hot spots such as take away food stores, convenience stores, car parks and railway stations.

It should be noted that Liquor Licences for late night venues require the employment of Crowd Controllers – yet the vast majority of late night food/convenience stores do not and carparks and railways stations operate totally unmanned.

Police sources advise that current levels are unsustainable, and that the number of police on city streets will be progressively reduced.

Many of the current police rostered on duty in the CBD on weekends are not locally based and also unsuited to the role.

Clearly, it is now time that Council went on the front foot and a developed a strategic management plan for the policing of the City, including use of private security to patrol streets, car parks, etc, and accurate and informative reporting and mapping of crime statistics.

Frankston is an example of a City Council that, in the interest of community safety, has engaged private security both on foot and mobile patrols.

I have written to Council previously indicating that an appropriate mix of private security and police would be the most effective option for the City in the long term.

I would suggest 100 guards on Fridays and 200 on Saturdays would be necessary to cover the CBD, Southbank and Docklands.

The cost would be approximately $50 per guard and if they were rostered onto 10 shifts this would equal 3000 hours X $50 = $150,000 per week or $7,800,000 per year.

To test the feasibility of this project and establish operational protocols with police, licensees and other business owners, I suggest a location such as King Street be trialled first and independently evaluated before fully implementing the scheme.

Council’s budget is more than $350 million per year and it could easily absorb this cost and probably earn more revenue in any event from increases in City Visitors.

Tourists alone spend $16 billion in Victoria every year with nightclubs and bars rated amongst the most popular attractions.

An important part of a strategic plan is good communication and putting things in perspective.

It is important to continue to emphasise that Melbourne remains a safe City and provide balance when the occasional unfortunate incident occurs.

In Melbourne of course, it is ludicrous to expect over 400,000 people who visit the city on weekends to all behave perfectly, with no criminal or anti-social element.

What the true facts clearly establish is that violence is inherent in all our social institutions and most notably the home.

We cannot obviously ever expect to totally eliminate violence but through better understanding of ‘cause and effect’ we can reduce the level and impact of violence, and provide greater deterrence through a tougher stance on hard core offenders by our police and Courts.

And we must put a greater emphasis on mental health and the impact it can have on public behaviour.

So in conclusion we will always have problem individuals who will spoil a good night for the vast majority of responsible citizens – but we can manage the external environment much more effectively and keep the public better informed on what is really happening.

Council is urged to take a greater leadership role in conjunction with its partners and key stakeholders to develop a more strategic approach to how the police and security forces could operate in the city based on improved crime intelligence.

Let’s work together to make Melbourne an even more liveable and safer city.”

This open letter has been edited due to its length.


The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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