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.