We all want to live in a safe community, and Christine Bannister, Crime Prevention Officer for Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, advocates reporting crime – no matter how minor the incident – as accurate reporting helps to set preventative measures in place …
Tell us about your role as the CPO?
The Crime Prevention Officer performs a number of roles within Council and the wider community. When working alongside the community, my role is to help determine what some of the contributing factors may be in relation to preventable crime and to work on developing strategies to reduce or resolve these factors.
The Port Macquarie-Hastings local government area is a safe place to live, work and play, but like all areas, there are things we can do to improve safety and reduce crime. Sometimes it is because we live in such a safe area that we can become a little complacent, which creates a perfect environment for some types of crime to happen. This may include, for example, the habit of not locking your car, which may sound like common sense to some people, but surprisingly is an all too often occurrence.
Within Council, my role takes on a different dimension and for the most, part focuses on the future use of the built environment and public space. This includes providing crime risk assessments on new large public and commercial developments, reviewing liquor licenses and being involved in future planning for public spaces such as parks and reserves. We know from experience that when we consider factors such as good natural surveillance and clear definition space, that some crimes are reduced. This may include making sure that vegetation does not create concealment opportunities and that people who come to use public spaces are clear about the intended use of that space.
What are some of your objectives as the CPO?
Often people think of Police or courts when it comes to crime, or social factors that are beyond the ability for the average person to change. A significant proportion of crime, however, especially at a local level, is best described as ‘opportunistic crime’. This type of crime is usually not planned, but rather is committed by a person or persons who observe an opportunity. An unlocked car or a handbag in a shopping trolley provide the right amount of temptation that might lead to a spur of the moment incident. A part of my role is to work promoting a greater awareness about the need to be more vigilant with belongings, which may be through the use of signs, awareness campaigns and information.
Another example of crime that is more situational rather than opportunistic is assaults, more often than not, are by people who are intoxicated and loitering in the CBD during the night, especially Friday and Saturday. Projects such as the Nightrider bus assist in getting people home after leaving licensed premises after midnight on peak nights, thereby reducing the number of people hanging around.
Working to clarify misconceptions about crime also is another key objective of my role as Crime Prevention Officer both in relation to frequency and type. It is not uncommon to hear comments about how crime has grown significantly or is much worse presently than it has been in the past. While it is true that over the past 10 years crime has risen in a couple of areas, for the most part crime rates are relatively stable. One strategy that has been developed in the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council’s Draft Crime Prevention Strategy, has been the running of a number of forums that have been held in Wauchope, Laurieton and Port Macquarie. These forums were jointly run with Police and presented data about actual current crime trends for the local area. Armed with accurate information, local community members are better equipped to help work towards reducing actual crime, rather than fearing crimes that are not occurring.
What are some of the most common crimes encountered in our area?
Crime trends have a tendency to fluctuate all the time. There are, however, a couple of areas that have been identified as local priorities, which are assault and stealing. Assaults, especially alcohol related assaults, have been a concern for a number of years – particularly of a night and weekend. A range of strategies have been developed in relation to this, including two strategies implemented through the Hastings Liquor Accord, the 12am lockout and a ‘no shots’ policy, both of which seek to reduce intoxication. Other strategies include the Nightrider, which was mentioned earlier, the use of security and increased policing in identified areas.
The second category of stealing has increased marginally over the past 10 years, which has been made easier with the increase of products that have great value but are small in size and easier to conceal. Products that are particularly popular at the moment for thieves include GPS devices, mobile phones and MP3 players and iPods. Other items which are also very popular, particularly from residential properties, include cash and alcohol.
Of these crimes, it seems many are under reported. Why is this, and what can we do to report them?
Under reporting of crime is often due to a range of reasons. Sometimes, particularly with minor crime, members of the community may be reluctant to report crime based on the view that Police have enough to contend with dealing with the more serious crimes. Police, however, are interested in hearing about all crime. In the instance of minor crimes, there may not be an immediate physical response, as this is not required, but if these crimes are reported, ideally to the Police Assistance Line (PAL), then information is captured.
Another reason some people are reluctant to report crime is concern about reprisals or ‘pay back’. If this is the case, then anyone wishing to report a crime can talk to Police and let them know that they are fearful about repercussions. Police will then take this into consideration when responding, to ensure that the source remains confidential. Crimes can also be reported to Crime Stoppers if confidentiality is an issue. The Crime Stoppers number operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can also be used when you may have concerns about a potential crime or a cause for suspicion.
Why is it important to report crimes?
When the community works together to report crime, Police are able to develop an accurate picture of what is occurring in each neighbourhood and in response, can plan resources around these identified crimes. Like a puzzle, it often takes a number of pieces coming together to form an overall picture.
Are there any upcoming programs or initiatives happening for Crime Prevention?
At present, the number one project is to encourage the reporting of crime, which also includes promoting the three key numbers that the community should use when contacting Police. Other initiatives includes Serial Number Recording Sheets and a range of fact sheets that provide information on how to reduce crime in your home and vehicle.
Any final comments?
Crime prevention is about working together as a community to reduce crime. Ideally, it would be great to eradicate crime altogether, but this is not realistic. Unlike your super heroes on the screen and in comics, I am an undies on the inside person. One person or small group working alone can make some inroads, but working together is a much more effective way to improve the safety and amenity of our local community.