Violence ‘R’ Us

A letter to the editor of the local Northern Territory News yesterday caused me to make one of my fairly infrequent checks of crime statistics. Correspondent Chris Rogers, fairly clearly a Labor supporter, had this to say:

Recent crime statistics painted a bleak picture of our personal safety in the Territory. Statistics in the NT News report on local crime (March 1, 2014) indicate that people in the NT are three times more likely to get attacked than someone living down south.

The data also show that assaults, domestic violence assaults and alcohol-related assaults in Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs all increased last year.

It seems to me that the figures point to the CLP’s policy of relaxing alcohol supplies to the wrong people being the main problem…

In fact the most recent crime statistics show that violent crime rates for the Northern Territory as a whole increased by 10.8% in 2013. In Darwin the increase was 9.7%, in Palmerston a very small 2.5% and in Alice Springs 7%.

Now on first blush that might appear to support Chris Rogers’ argument. However, when we examine crime statistics for the preceding five years 2006-2011, when the Martin/Henderson Labor government was in power, we find that the rate of annual increase is hardly any lower.  Violent crime increased by a total of 38% in the Territory as a whole over that period i.e. an average of just under 8% per year.

Far from showing, as Chris Rogers asserts, that the current rate of increase in violent crime is a result of “the CLP’s policy of relaxing alcohol supplies to the wrong people” (presumably he means Aborigines), analysis of the statistics over the last decade suggests that neither the ALP’s anti-alcohol policies nor the new CLP government’s replacement policies have had any measurable effect on the seemingly inexorable rise in violent crime in the Northern Territory.

When viewing crime statistics, it always pays to keep in mind that changes in reporting patterns can have a dramatic effect on the overall figures, especially in a very small jurisdiction like the Northern Territory. Moreover, quite a high proportion of total violent crime is constituted by domestic violence offences, a category where reporting rates notoriously may vary widely over time for a range of reasons. Nevertheless, the fact that there have been steady and quite large increases in violent crime basically every year for the last decade or more suggests that there are real and very serious social problems that are not being effectively addressed.

This increasing trend is rendered even more disturbing by the fact that violent crime in the rest of Australia has actually been falling steadily over the last decade.

One might regard it as remarkable that we don’t see greater and more serious attention paid to this problem. Instead we just get politicians on both sides grandstanding with ill-considered “tough on crime” announcements seemingly designed purely for short-term electoral gain, along with blatantly partisan letter writers like Chris Rogers whose sole interest appears to be to pin the blame on one side of politics or the other.

Violent crime has drastic effects on our community, both socially and economically.  It is much worse here than in the rest of Australia, and its effects are by no means confined to the Aboriginal community (although Aboriginal people are drastically overrepresented in the ranks of both victims and perpetrators). It is well beyond time for us to start seriously analysing its causes and seriously looking for more effective responses. A good start would be to fund the establishment of a local Northern Territory equivalent of the Australian Institute of Criminology.

Of course, the Territory has a much younger population than the national average, a much higher proportion of Aboriginal people, and much higher levels of alcohol consumption than the rest of Australia, in both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community. All those demographic factors are associated with higher crime rates, and so it is very likely that the Northern Territory will continue to exhibit higher crime rates than other parts of Australia whatever responses governments implement. Nevertheless, surely we can do better than has been the case over the last decade or so. At the very least we need to find out why violent crime here is getting worse not better.

**Image authorised for reuse.

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