In less than two weeks my local government area will go the polls to elect a new group of Councillors to represent us for the period of the new Council. Additionally, in a number of months we will have a state election.
Recently, local media and social media have been very active in portraying the local area as being under the assault of a crime wave, youth crime to be precise. The Police have conceded there is a spike in property crime and recently motor vehicle theft has increased. There has been pressure for the state government to change legislation with an apparent belief that a change in legislation will lower the crime rate and make people feel safe. The state government has put in place a number of measures and the opposition is promising to go hard on crime.
The question I now have is who is responsibility for preventing crime? Is it the Police? The courts? state government? The federal government? Local government? Who?
Clue: It’s all of us.
State and Federal Government
These are the level of government responsible for making legislation for all of us. They will make laws in a number of areas including crime. Federal government will make laws regarding terrorism, border control etc and State Government largely for criminal justice to keep us all safe.
This institution interprets the legislation and makes decisions based on the legislation. Their main preventative role is in the decisions made by magistrates in criminal matters. Their power is dependent on common law, case law and legislation.
When asked about crime prevention many people will immediately think of the Police. But is crime prevention their core business or is it something else like enforcement of the law and investigation of criminal matters?
Recently, local candidates for the position of Mayor were asked about local government and crime prevention. One response was immediately that this was not a local government responsibility but that of State Government and that if local government was to be involved it would cost millions. The irony in this response is that we have a state of the art public cctv system monitored on a 24-hour basis. These systems require large infrastructure investment. The cost of monitoring the system is borne by council, in itself a significant cost. Already local government is heavily involved in crime prevention.
But there is much more local government can do to build safe community. There is a role in planning safe places, maintaining public space and in locally made regulations enforced by council staff. There is much more local government has a responsibility for.
Local Government is the level of government closest to the community. They have a major responsibility for building local community and in ensuring that community is safe.
Many councils do this through a range of measures:
Community Safety or Crime Prevention Committees: These are committees comprising Council, Police, business, other government representatives, community organisations and community members. These committees provide a source of information on current issues, what each group is doing in this space and an opportunity to coordinate responses and programs. At the very least they provide important information to Council in what is happening in the community in relation to safety.
Advisory or Community Committees: This is about local engagement and the provision of information to Council. It could be a formal committee or jury or other process but it needs to be something for the provision of information for Council to act on.
Community Development Projects: This is where council steps up to build strong and connected community. An important function of any council. What is the point of having great physical infrastructure if you don’t build the community to fit into the concrete structures?
The Community – US
We can all do something to create a strong community and reduce crime. The best tool in preventing crime is a strong community, a place where people know each other and look out for one another. Places where people are active in public space, where people know each other’s first name are safer places. There is something we can all do to create community and make safer places. Just getting to know our neighbours is a start.
On top of this we can all make our property more secure to deter criminals. Lock doors, don’t leave garage doors up when no one is present, lock windows, remove valuables from places they can be seen from outside, trim landscape so people can observe who is in the yard, install sensor security lighting, lock your car when not in use. There are so many simple things.
Let’s all build a strong, safe community and take more care with our own security.