By Zeb Holmes and Ugur Nedim
A Sydney criminologist believes that the implementation of preventative and diversionary strategies is the primary reason for most categories of crime declining across the state in recent years.
Dr Garner Clancey, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, points out that many offences have fallen by as much as 75% in the last 15 years.
“I’m sure people still experience fear and anxiety in locations, and people are still victims of crime, but in comparison to what was an incredibly high time of crime in the late 90s, things are vastly improved,” Dr Clancey remarked.
The latest report from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR), released in December 2016, suggests that only one of the 17 major offence categories showed an increase across NSW in the 60 months to September. That category was retail theft, which is up 6.4%.
Eight offence-types, including robbery, break and enter, motor vehicle theft and malicious damage to property, have been trending downwards. The remaining categories, including domestic violence, sexual assault, stealing from motor vehicle and stealing from dwelling, have remained stable.
Yet despite the trend, ABS social surveys suggest that only half of all people feel safe walking alone in their local area after dark, and that figure has in fact grown slightly over the last decade.
Reasons for downward trend
Dr Clancey argues that better private security measures such as surveillance, the rise in cheap whitegoods and a reduction in heroin use since the late 90s have all played a part in the decline in stealing offences.
BOCSAR researchers Don Weatherburn, Imogen Halstead and Stephanie Ramsey postulate that declines in heroin use in the early 2000s, improvements in economic conditions and vehicle security have also contributed to the decrease in theft.
Significantly, there has been an increased emphasis on crime prevention at a community level, with local diversionary programs and prevention strategies causing significant decreases in crime, especially in many rural communities. Programs such as justice reinvestment and other initiatives which aim to address the underlying causes of crime – such as socio-economic disadvantage, lack of access to housing and employment, and inadequate drug, alcohol and mental health programs – have also played their part, with many local communities embracing measures intended to put those at-risk on the right path and break the cycle of crime.
In January, the NSW Government announced a second round of the NSW Community Safety Fund, which allows local communities to apply for grants of up to $250,000 for projects designed to prevent crime.
Community groups, councils, businesses and organisations can apply for grants to address local crime hot spots. Minister for Justice and Police, Troy Grant, acknowledges that crime is a social and financial burden which ultimately affects the community as a whole.
“We know there is always more that can be done to stamp out crime in our towns and suburbs and we are working with the community to identify opportunities,” Mr Grant said.
Attorney General Gabrielle Upton said the $10 million program over four years has already helped make local crime reduction projects a reality.
Last year, 14 projects received funding, including the installation of CCTV systems, social inclusion programs and the Friday Night Live Youth Program focused on sport and healthy activities targeting Indigenous youth.
Opportunities for improvement
Dr Clancey believes the most effective opportunity for preventing local crime lies in early intervention schemes, such as youth mentoring and education plans, parenting programs and pre-school regimes.
He encourages local community groups to be proactive in fighting crime by taking grass roots initiatives, such as:
- Improving street lighting and other design aspects of crime hot spots,
- Installing closed circuit television, and
- Asking the question: “How do we get people back into places that might seem desolate after hours, that might create a sense of fear and anxiety?”
Dr Glancey emphasises that initiatives must be evidence-based and tailored to the specific needs of local communities, in order to receive grants. “[Be clear] about what your problem is, and have data to prove it, and have a clear strategy to how you will reduce crime,” he advises. “Don’t talk about nebulous things like ‘we hope this might work’; [say] ‘here’s the evidence’.”