Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The freedom of the press still furnishes that check upon government which no constitution has ever been able to provide – Chicago Tribune.

HomeIssue 8Why don't police come clean on drunks taken to hospital?

Why don't police come clean on drunks taken to hospital?

PICTURED: The leaked document. It seems to show a 50%, not a nearly 100% increase in hospital admissions.
The slamming – his word – by Chief Minister Adam Giles of Prime Minister Julia Gillard for her “loosely veiled threat to cut funding to the Territory if the Government doesn’t reinstate the failed Banned Drinkers Register” would have a great deal more credibility if the NT police, for which he has responsibility, provided information that would make the BDR debate much better informed.
Failure to do so is especially clumsy given that the number of drunks taken into protective custody, and dropped off at the hospital, may well skew the stats in favour of Mr Giles’ argument, namely that the BDR was a waste of time.
Unofficial figures collected by hospital staff and last week leaked to The Australian newspaper suggest that admissions had increased sharply when the BDR was dropped.
The health department says these figures are not reliable.
A month after the BDR was dropped last year, the Coroner gave the police a major caning over the death in a police cell of Kwementyaye Briscoe, drunk to the point of unconsciousness.
Anecdotal evidence shows that after the court finding, instead of taking drunks to the lock-up, cops dumped them at outpatients, with growing frequency.
How much is this, rather than the discontinued BDR, to blame for the increased hospital admissions? That’s one question.
Trouble is, anecdotal evidence is not good enough, not for the piece of mind of Alice Springs locals, nor the NT in general which is, yet again, being dragged through the national mud.
Penny Fielding, the Health Department’s Executive Director Strategy and Reform, casts doubt on the widely reported leaked data:-
“There are no reliable measures of alcohol-related presentations to the emergency department (ED) using the data which is currently collected.
“The data collection you refer to has been used by department to explore potential proxy indicators which may show the extent of alcohol-related presentations to ED. However, their validity has not been tested so we don’t know what the trends mean.
“For these reasons it would be irresponsible to release this data. The department expects that it will be able to commence collecting and reporting on alcohol-related ED presentations in the next financial year.”
So, the health department says it does not have reliable data. The police clearly has them but says it doesn’t, although they could cast more light on the issues.
In fact, the police keeps detailed rerecords of people taken into protective custody – see page 137 of their 1022/12 annual report.
Meanwhile Opposition Leader said in a media release today that Adam Giles “wrongly claimed that the BDR didn’t provide a pathway to recover from addiction.
“He completely ignores that breaches of the BDR meant the Alcohol Court and Tribunal could mandate treatment.  He scrapped that,” Ms Lawrie said.
“In the six month period between 1 January 2012 to 30 June 2012, there were 679 mandatory referrals to the alcohol tribunal. That’s almost four mandatory referrals per day.
“He also ignores that the Alcohol Court and Tribunal could quarantine welfare payments to be spent on essentials.  He scrapped that and drunks are now free to spend all their welfare on grog. The CLP scrapped the BDR to save $2 million. They are now spending $100 million on a Golden Revolving Door.
“Mr Giles is right on one thing – some Territory communities have very tough alcohol restrictions.  The problem he ignores is that when the BDR was scrapped people in those communities knew they were free again to come into Darwin to drink,” says Ms Lawrie.

We set out to get the facts but was given the run-around, as this correspondence shows:-
Alice Springs News Online News to top ranking police officer in Alice, Kate Vanderlaan (copy to Police Media):- “Could you please give me numbers of people, week by week, from January 1, 2012 till now, who were taken into protective custody for drunkenness but were taken to the hospital rather than the police cells.”
Police Media Information Officer Amy Sloan to ASNO (she first rang to suggest the information is in the annual reports published on the web. We looked them up and the latest went as far as June, 2012.
Ms Sloan emailed: Hi Erwin, please speak with the Department of Health in relation to your query. We do not have the stats you’re after.
ASNO to Ms Sloan: Hi Amy. From this I conclude that the police does not have records about what they are doing with prisoners they take into protective custody. Please confirm.
Michael Holland, police media director, to ASNO: First of all people taken into protective custody are not prisoner.
Secondly, if you’re seeking weekly stats for a four month period you will have to make an application under FOI. The media unit does not have those statistics readily available, hence Amy’s efforts to direct you to the Health Department.
Intended or not, your comment … is sarcastic and not warranted.
Here we have it: A lecture, a buck-pass but no information.
Someone who’s put into the back of a paddy wagon and taken to a police cell is not a prisoner? OK.
And “we do not have the stats you’re after” is exactly what Ms Sloan told us.
The health department says it does not have reliable figures.
There were significant events in the time span we nominated:
The BDR, started on July 1, 2011, had ensnared some 1800 drinkers NT-wide by the start of 2012.
On January 4 Mr Briscoe died in police custody. Alcohol restrictions activists claim around three protective custody prisoners a day started to be taken to the hospital.
In May operation Marathon was introduced, with police officers stationed outside liquor stores.
The BDR was discontinued the day after the August 25 election.
A month later the Briscoe inquest finding was handed down, reportedly leading to a lot more drunks being taken to the hospital rather than the cells.
The line that we have to lodge a Freedom of Information request is becoming a broken record. It’s been the answer we got twice within a month.
The first one was when we queried why police had failed, for six months, to arrest a man in breach of his parole, giving him the opportunity of viciously assaulting two women on three occasions. We also asked how many outstanding warrants there are.
The FOI application form shows the process is burdensome, associated with costs not determined in advance and without guarantee of success.
UPDATE May 9: See second editor’s note appended to comment by “Ray” below.


  1. Although it doesn’t help with the costs, https://www.righttoknow.org.au/ makes the FOI application process much easier. It has the added bonus of making the process public, so your readers can track the progress of your application.
    If you lodge an application, let us know!
    [ED – Many thanks, Francis!]

  2. Out of curiosity Erwin, is it possible to overlay a graph of property crime for the same period (intro, removal of BDR)?
    [ED – Hi Ray, I’ll give it a try. I wonder if the answer will again be “make an FOI application”.]
    [ED, May 9: Hi Ray, page 106 of the Annual Crime Statistics published by the Department of Justice gives the “frequency of offences against property” in Alice Springs for the years 2006-07 to 2011-12. I could not find monthly figures, nor any more recent.
    On page 37 of an untitled Department of Justice report you will find “Quarterly offences against property” for the calendar years 2011 and 2012. Also, you will find media releases on property Strike Force Vega on the police site.]


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