By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim
Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) suggest Melbourne has overtaken Sydney as the violent crime capital of Australia.
The 2016 ABS ‘Victims of Crime’ survey suggests Victoria has the highest incidence of crimes against the person, including robberies, assaults and car jackings, and Melbourne’s violent crime rates are the highest in Australia.
Breaking down some of the figures, Victoria had 52,700 cases of unlawful entry with intent, up from 44,400 in 2010. By comparison, New South Wales recorded 41,200 – a significant downturn from the previous number of 59,700.
Victoria recorded 1900 armed robberies, up from 1400. New South Wales had 1070, down from 2150.
Victoria versus New South Wales
Crime rates in NSW are the lowest they have been in 40 years. But the same cannot be said of Victoria.
At the start of 2010, both Sydney and Melbourne showed similar crime figures – about 800 victims per 100,000 residents.
By 2016, Victoria had increased to 869 victims per 100,000, while Sydney declined dramatically to 533 per 100,000.
That same year, Victoria had 869 victims of unlawful entry per 100,000 residents, while NSW had 533.
Victoria also had 32 victims of armed robbery per 100,000 residents, up from 26. In New South Wales, the figure was just 14, down from 30.
Victoria versus National Average
While national rates of violent crime have fallen since 2010, the same cannot be said of our southern neighbour.
Victoria saw a 34% increase in armed robberies; and while unlawful entry fell by 9 per cent nationwide, the state experienced an increase of 19 per cent.
As a response to the spike in violent crime, the Victorian government recently committed $2 billion towards recruiting more than 2,500 new frontline and specialist police officers, boosting overall numbers by around 20 per cent.
The plan includes 42 youth specialist officers, whose job it will be to work with those considered ‘at risk of offending’.
While the proposal represents the biggest increase to police staffing levels in 163 years, those working within the system question whether extra police is the answer to violent crime.
Is more police and bigger prisons the answer?
While Australian states and territories are investing enormous sums of money on law enforcement, the experience of other countries is that greater spending on prevention, diversion and rehabilitation is far more effective at reducing crime.
The Netherlands, for example, places a heavy emphasis on preventing crime through investing in housing, employment, and programs that are designed to address drug and alcohol abuse, and mental health issues.
Like Portugal, the country treats drug addiction as a health issue, rather than a criminal law problem, and both countries have experienced significant social and economic benefits by employing this approach.
The Netherland focuses on diverting offenders away from the criminal justice system through a number of measure, including monitoring offenders with tracking devices whilst they address underlying issues away from the negative influence of prison walls.
The shift away from enforcement and towards prevention and diversion has seen crime rates shrink to all-time lows, leading to the closure of several Dutch prisons and saving the country enormous sums of money.
Many believe Australia could learn from experiences of the Dutch and Portuguese, rather than continue investing billions of taxpayer dollars on more police officers and bigger prisons.