Backchat Program Special: Are Cops Tops?

July 4th 2015

On June 20 the Sydney Morning Herald published a story called The new Kings Cross: lockout laws send revellers to Newtown, and alcohol related crimes rise where they’d done their own analysis of some numbers from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, and come to some wildly different conclusions, including a 375% increase in assaults in Petersham. That’s huge, and vindicating for people who are opposed to the lockouts. But is it true? We spoke to Don Weatherburn, director of the bureau of crime statistics and research, who said it was “dignifying it a bit to call it an analysis”

Don said that while the numbers were too small to indicate any increase in assaults, there was a possibility that the threatening atmosphere people are talking about could be due to an increase in other alcohol related offences that so far haven’t been analysed, like offensive conduct, failure to move on, assault police, or offensive language. So we asked him to run the numbers for Backchat, on suburbs both inside and outside the lockout zone.

Turns out, a lot of the time the numbers were too low for reliable statistical analysis, and BOCSAR says that “for the trend tests that could be reliably carried out, they were all down or stable.”

That’s reflective of a long term reduction in most types of crime. Wooloomooloo, Potts Point, Darlinghurst, and the CBD are really the only areas that have seen reductions in crimes like offensive conduct and assault – offensive conduct was down 31.6% in the CBD, 49.3% in potts point and 27% in darlinghurst. Malicious damage to property was down 23% in Wooloomooloo and 18% in the CBD. These numbers seem to indicate the lockouts are having a positive effect on violence. But we need to take into account that there has been a huge reduction in foot traffic – up to 85% in the CBD, according to CCTV monitoring by City of Sydney – so the drop isn’t as large compared to the drastic reduction in visitor numbers.

What they do show however is that there hasn’t been an increase in alcohol-related crime in Newtown and surrounding areas. For Newtown, Glebe and Petersham there has been no increase or not enough incidents at least, to show any trend at all.

And that got us thinking. If people are so adamant about an increase in violence and a threatening atmosphere in Newtown, why isn’t it being reflected in any crime statistics? Is it because it’s not being reported? Is it just hippies being NIMBYs? Does it have anything to do with vulnerable members of our community: young people, Aboriginal people, lgbtiqa people, and their relationships with police? Does it have anything to do with certain posters, that are reflective of a certain attitude on the streets of Newtown?

Backchat producer Selena Shannon chatted to a guy called Jacob, who she met at Black Rose bookshop, about the notorious ‘snitches get stitches’ posters you see around the streets of the inner west.

We know that people who inhabit anarchist bookshops probably don’t love the police. And we also know that there is a history of violence, misreporting and mistrust between a number of vulnerable communities and police, including trans people. Kate Doak is a journalist and transgender woman who says that 30 or 40 years ago, the relationship between trans people and police wasn’t great, but that things are improving, and that reporting crime is half the battle.

David Porter is the senior solicitor in the UNSW policing practice at Redfern Legal Centre. We spoke to him about how vulnerable people are disproportionately represented in both crime statistics and the prison population.



Alecia Simmonds has just written a book called Wild Man which, initially, was about police killings, but as she researched the case, became more about police and mental illness.



She says that in Victoria, police come into contact with a mentally ill person every two hours. That’s a pretty major part of the job, but it’s not a major part of police training, which has become a problem as we’ve moved to a community care model for people with mental illness and their contact with police has increased. And it’s probably not why most police chose to join the force.


Canberra teenager Belle Holden is on her way to joining the Australian police force. It’s a long journey starting with two years studying Criminal Justice, followed by six months at the Police Academy of Goulburn, but she shows no uncertainty about her decision. For our police special, she shares some insight into her fascination with the force and what her friends think of her career choice.


Read more from Heidi Pett