There is one fact that always seems
to shock people: murder aside, you are
more at risk of becoming a victim of a
serious crime in Australia than in the
US. The mean streets of the States are
not that mean after all. There are the
rough spots such as the Bronx, but even
they are safer than they used to be. During
the 1990s the New York crime rate fell
by 60 per cent. In Australia, our crime
rate rose by 10 per cent.
That 10 per cent increase comes after
a period of extraordinary rising crime.
Since 1964 recorded crime has risen by
450 per cent. And this is serious crime:
homicide, rape, assault, robbery, burglary,
and motor vehicle theft. Trends of rising
crime through the 1960s, 70, and 80s are
not unique to Australia. What is unique
to Australia, however, is that our crime
rates continued to rise in the 1990s while
all over the US, in the UK, and even across
the Tasman, rates dropped.
It is time we took note of the fact that
Australia's crime rate is out of pace
with our Western counterparts and start
looking at serious policies to combat
it. We need to figure out where we've
gone wrong and what we can do to change.
One of the starting points is to look
at what has been happening with our police.
Since 1964 police numbers in Australia
have increased by only 37 per cent. This
pales in comparison to the 450 per cent
rise in crime. As a result the number
of police per serious crime has fallen
from 225 officers to just 60. And this
doesn't even take into account the minor
offences that police have to deal with
Is it any wonder that our police are
clearing fewer crimes than they were in
1964? Cleared crimes are down by about
a third. Of the serious crimes mentioned
above, 22 per cent were cleared in 2001
(although this was an improvement on the
1980s when only 15 per cent of crimes
were cleared). Our failure to provide
more police has meant that criminals have
even less chance of getting caught than
they did 40 years ago.
Increasing police numbers is one means
of combatting the problem. This would not be
cheap, but there may be higher costs to
society if we ignore the strain on police
York Police Department increased their
ranks by 10,000 officers, a 25 per cent
addition during the 1990s. They also revamped
their policing style. They used technology
to identify crime hot spots, they put
the police back on the beat, and they
took note of the little things, policing
incivility and disorder as well as serious
Research has shown that this revamp was
vital. While an increase in police numbers
will generally result in a lower crime
rate, using them effectively can have
a further impact in lowering crime. More
police are most cost effective when they
are used correctly.
Police forces in Australia have started
to take note of this research. In NSW
for instance, the police, like their counterparts
in New York, decided to target crime hotspots.
Through 'City Safe' in 1998, and continuing
with 'Operation Viking' last year, the
police have been maintaining a highly
visible presence on the streets. They
have also increased their use of stop-and-search
powers, in the search for weapons, and
their move-on powers, to use against drug
dealers and users in public places.
The police have been rewarded by an increase
in clear-up rates since the low of the
1980s. However, our crime rate still remains
high and our clear-up rates low. There
is clearly more work to be done.
New York achieved a dramatic decrease
in its crime rate and research has shown
the changes in policing methods were a
major reason for the drop. We have yet
to achieve results anywhere near the level
of the NYPD. This tells us that we need
to be looking more at how to improve our
policing and not be complacent with the
changes thus far.
We should be listening when our police
are telling us that they are understaffed.
The statistics show that they are right
- they need more help. But in return we
must demand that our police use their
resources effectively. Public debate must
go beyond just a numbers game and focus
on what our police should be doing with
their extra numbers.
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