By Zeb Holmes and Ugur Nedim
Crime rates across NSW have dropped to their lowest in 40 years.
Specific Crime Rate Drops
The offences which showed the most significant falls over the past two years are:
- robbery without a weapon(down 13.3%);
- robbery with a weapon not a firearm (down 13.9%);
- break and enter dwelling(down 6.2%);
- motor vehicle theft (down 7.3%);
- steal from person (down 13.3%);
- fraud (down 3.9%).
Violent crimes such as murder, domestic violence related assaults and sexual assaults have remained stable over the same period.
According to BOCSAR Director Don Weatherburn, the statistics are just part of a decades-long downward trend in crime. “People don’t fully realise the extent to which crime has dropped,” he remarked.
“The rates of robbery in New South Wales are now back to where they were in the 1970s and the rates of home burglary and motor vehicle theft are the lowest they’ve been since records began in the early 1970s,” he added. Dr Weatherburn.
“The fact of the matter is we’ve really never had it so safe as far as those major categories of property and violent crime are concerned.”
Crimes trending upwards
The only major offence category to have increased is “steal from retail store” (up 6.1%), which has been trending upwards for six successive quarters.
Thefts from supermarkets accounted for 59% of the total increase in retail theft, stealing from department stores made up 24% rise, and stealing from shopping complexes 14%.
The most commonly stolen items are liquor, clothing, personal items such as cosmetics, toiletries and razors followed by food.
Despite the downward trend, a number of offence-types rose in western NSW and on the Central Coast.
The Central Coast experienced a significant increase in five of the 17 major offences: domestic assault (up 21.5%), indecent assault (up 21.6%), break and enter-dwelling (up 12.6%), steal from motor vehicle (up 18.1%) and malicious damage to property (up 8.3%).
The Far West and Orana have seen increases in four major property offences: break and enter-dwelling (up 22.4%), motor vehicle theft (up 34.8%), steal from retail store (up 28.3%) and steal from dwelling (up 13.7%).
Property crime in the Far West and Orana is up to three times the state average.
Police Minister Tory Grant warns that the community cannot be complacent. “Offences like domestic violence, whenever there is one in an area, that is one too many,” he said. “Complacency will never set in despite these good figures.”
NSW Police Commissioner Michael Fuller believes police are responsible for the drop in crime, adding that “[w]e will be undergoing a re-engineering process with the NSW Police Force with our focus squarely on crime reduction. That’s my commitment to putting our community first in everything we do”, he said.
Why is crime falling?
NSW has seen a decline in major offences by up to 75% in the last 15 years, according to Dr Garner Clancey, former crime prevention consultant and senior lecturer at the University of Sydney.
Dr Clancey attributes much of the fall to improvements in security, such as alarms, locks, lighting and CCTV cameras, and the decline in heroin use since the late 1990s.
Like many, Dr Glancey is of the view that the most effective way to further reduce crime is through preventative initiatives, such as better access to education, housing, mental health and drug and alcohol programs, youth mentoring and other local initiatives.
New police chief advocates zero tolerance policing
NSW Commissioner Mick Fuller disagrees, arguing that arresting people for minor crimes and putting them through the criminal justice system is the best way to deal with crime.
“The point with the broader philosophy of disrupting crime, is that you arrest someone for whatever offence you can get them for”, he remarked.
It is an outdated view which has been repeatedly debunked through research, and by many progressive heads of law enforcement who acknowledge that “we can’t arrest out way out of the problem” of crime.
Fuller is also opposed to drug decriminalisation, arguing that arresting drug users is an effective deterrent to the issue of drugs in society – a position which most sensible commentators recognise as nonsense.
The views of the new state police chief are indeed concerning.