Recently, my local Council conducted a community survey. To my surprise some of the questions revolved around crime prevention. I was surprised by this as my local Council does not have a Crime Prevention Plan, specific committee devoted to community safety or strategic documentation expressly dedicated to crime prevention.
The results of the survey were of interest as they indicated a community where safety is a major concern. For example only 76% of residents stated they felt safe in their suburb i.e. 24% of residents feel unsafe for some period of the day with 6% stating they felt unsafe all of the time. The incidents of concern were property crimes, motor vehicle theft and assault.
While caution needs to be taken when asking these types of questions about safety in surveys as they reflect perceptions not realities but the do represent a large sector of the community expressing some degree of fear.
This set me to thinking if a council asks about community safety and crime prevention what is the role of local government, particularly in Australia in safety and crime prevention. You may be surprised to know that the role is much bigger than first thought.
The Role of Local Government
Research from the Australian Institute of Criminology reveals that Local Government in Australia “plays a central role in the design, management and delivery of crime prevention programs and policies in every Australian state and territory jurisdiction. This role has also been recognised at the national level with successive national crime prevention grants programs directing a significant amount of funding to local government (Homel et al. 2007; Morgan & Homel 2013).” (cited Homel, P & Fuller G., Understanding the role of Local Government in Crime Prevention).
So, What Sorts of Things Can Council Do?
This is where the rubber hits the road. No two Councils are the same. This is due to how each Local Government Authority views their strategic and operational role as well as availability of resources and governance structures. But there are many potential actions and strategies a Council may choose to undertake.
For example, once asking a question about perceptions of safety the next question is what does the Council intend on doing with the information gathered? For some Councils this may entail the creation of a strategic approach through a Crime Prevention Plan, Community Safety Committee formation, partnerships with frontline crime prevention agencies and service providers, or it may simply involve lobbying for additional police in an area.
Let’s look at some of things a Council may choose to do in response to perceptions of Community Safety or Fear of Crime.
This could involve a number of actions:
- Partnering with other agencies to address a social issue. This could involve a Council doing something as simple as attending joint meetings, contributing to the discussion and covering some costs such as printing information cards, taking responsibility for the marketing and promotion of the project. These are comparatively low-cost actions but demonstrate a commitment to working with frontline agencies and taking a role in crime prevention.
- Local Community Safety and Crime Prevention Committees. No two committees are the same but, in general they would comprise representation from Council, police, emergency services, community organisations, service providers and community members. An important role of these committees is in providing advice on the provision of a local government response to local safety issues.
- Drug and alcohol awareness campaigns. These are often targeted at youth and involve partnering with agencies such as youth services, schools, Department of Health etc
- Membership of External Committees. This could include being an active participant in Drug Action Teams, Suicide Prevention Networks, Liquor Accords, Homelessness Taskforce and Interagencies.
Information and Awareness
Many Council conduct information campaigns and awareness projects on various safety issues. These could be related to domestic violence, drug and alcohol awareness or how to secure your property to lower the risk of property crime. They could either produce their own educational information or distribute on behalf of other agencies and organisations.
Develop as Formal Strategy
Council are planning bodies. The development, implementation and review of strategic documentation is one of their key strengths. In the area of Crime Prevention, a Council may develop a Crime Prevention Plan or Strategy. This document would outline the local safety issues, the role of council, the role of other organisations and what progress towards creating a more positive safety situation would look like. This is an important document as it helps Councils to understand their role as well as outlining the roles of external agencies. It also provides goals and strategies to achieve these goals.
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is an accepted and proven approach to crime prevention. The basic concept is about designing out crime from an area. It looks at what can be done to the physical environment to reduce the likelihood of a crime occurring and includes environmental, security and social interventions to design out crime.
“CPTED strategies aim to reduce victimization, deter offender decisions that precede criminal acts, and build a sense of community among inhabitants so they can gain territorial control of areas, reduce crime, and minimize fear of crime.” (www.cpted.net)
These are principles Council can use in urban design, assessment of development applications, maintenance of a public space and in community development. For some Councils these principles will only inform planning decisions but for others this could involve in training staff in CPTED to conduct safety audits of Council property, CBD areas, business premises, residential homes, local communities or to conduct an awareness campaign of security and safety measures individuals may undertake to reduce the likelihood of a crime occurring in their area.
Close Circuit Television is a high cost approach undertaken by many councils. While the role of CCTV is often promoted in crime prevention this is subject to debate. In reality, the strength of CCTV is in the investigation phase not in the prevention phase. It is a powerful investigative tool but there is debate in its role in prevention.
Community Development Projects
Many Council employ Community Services/Development staff. From Council to Council the roles of these Council officers will vary from event organising, information provision, management of council spaces to conducting on the ground interventions aimed at community building. Successful projects and interventions are always conducted with other agencies and with the community with the most successful being those where the community is in control, mobilising and connecting their own assets to create the change they desire. This approach (Asset Based Community Development) has a strong history in local government in Australia.
I’m certain there are many other actions a local council can undertake in response to crime or safety issues in their local government area. From my experience these are the main interventions, strategies and actions undertaken by Councils.
I’m still left wondering how my Council will use the information the community has provided.