Society stops crime, not the police


2636 Rick Sarre OKBy ERWIN CHLANDA
“Police cannot prevent the vast majority of crime; they simply respond to it. If we halved the number of police, crime would increase a little but not exponentially.
“Most crime is prevented not by police but by good economic and social justice policies, higher employment rates, good family solidarity, high rates of educational opportunities, and welfare assistance.”
That’s the view of  Warwick T. (Rick) Sarre (pictured), Dean of Law and Professor of Law and Criminal Justice at the University of South Australia. We asked him to comment on the high number of police in the NT, three times the national average in the Southern Command.
He says: “Just look at, say, Israel to recognise that, even with a virtual police state, crime occurs on a daily basis if communitarianism has failed.”
Prof Sarre says long term trends indicate that crime and social disorder in the NT is much higher than the rest of the nation.
“This stems, in large measure, from the fact that a quarter of the NT population identifies as Indigenous where, sadly, rates of criminalisation and victimisation are historically out of proportion with the figures for non-Indigenous Australians.
“Police are not the key here. What is key is the social relationships between people, and if they are fraught, crime increases.
“Sadly, Indigenous Australians are caught up in a spiral of crime and criminality caused by 200 years of social and economic disruption and isolation. A few extra police (even a lot of extra police) are not going to change that overnight.”
Prof Sarre says where Indigenous communities are concerned, higher numbers of police are needed, especially where there are large distances between remote communities.
“I applaud any endeavours to integrate private security personnel, too, in so far as they have received intercultural training and can supplement the policing needs at less cost.
“There is push and pull here. The more police you have, the more crime is detected of course. But more importantly, in the NT the fact is that there is more crime too, and police cannot prevent the vast majority of crime; they simply respond to it.
“The evidence is clear: property crime is not solved by police and penalties (deterrence), but by better economic conditions in the long term, and by private security guards and CCTV and ‘target hardening’ items such as good locks, alarms and lighting in the short term.”
Prof Sarre says the hugely disproportionate road fatalities are “the result of drink-driving, lack of seat belts, overcrowded vehicles, long open roads and unenforced speed limits.
“Governments can do better on all these factors if they are better addressed. Police do have a key role here.”
Professor Sarre also taught in the Business Division at Graceland University (Iowa, USA, 1997), in the Department of Law, Umeå University (Sweden, 2004), and with UniSA business programs twinned with Hong Kong Baptist University (1999-2008).


  1. Professor Sarre is correct in identifying “good economic and social justice policies, higher employment rates, good family solidarity, high rates of educational opportunities, and welfare assistance” as having a more effective role in tackling crime and anti-social behaviour in our communities than the knee-jerk cries for more police.
    I would add to his list “a better acknowledgement, appreciation and respect for Indigenous cultural values,” which would promote a sense of true social inclusion for a section of our community that have not been allowed to play an effective part in our decision-making process, neither at a local nor at a Territory level.
    Evidence of exclusion ranges from objections to flying the Aboriginal Flag on Anzac Hill, the insistence of excluding Indigenous language in our schools and the lack of consultation regarding the siting for the Indigenous Art Centre. Politicians can take note: We can and need to do better.

  2. Spot on Dominico especially “appreciation and respect for Indigenous cultural values”.
    If a quiz/survey was conducted on the basic knowledge regarding Aboriginal culture, how many of us will pass?
    For fact I know some (quite a few) Europeans working for years with Aborigenes who still do not have basic knowledge of the culture / history / background of the people they served.
    In this age there are no more excuses for asking: “Why didn’t we know? Why were we not told?”


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