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Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment

Indicator: Safety

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Summary of results

The perception of community and personal safety in the ACT was affected by a number of events during the reporting period. Aside from world events, two bushfires, in 2001 and 2003, highlighted our vulnerability to outside influences as well as those closer to home.

The two major topics of concern to the ACT community are illicit drugs and housebreaking, closely related areas, as the proceeds of sales of stolen goods are often the source of funding for illicit drug users.

The number of offences against property fluctuated during the reporting period, but two campaigns by the Australian Federal Police helped reduce the number from 37,370 in 2000–01 to 33,912 in 2002–03.

One alarming trend is the continual rise in numbers of offences against the person over the past five years.

Numbers of police continue to remain below the figure reported in 1997–98, despite a small increase in each year of the current reporting period.

What the results tell us about the ACT

Crime campaigns a success

During the reporting period the Australian Federal Police (AFP) undertook two major operations to reduce property crime in the ACT. The first, Operation Anchorage , began on 26 February 2001, with the aim of reducing the number of burglaries in the ACT. The campaign was considered a success over the four remaining months of the financial year, as the total number of offences dropped by 21% on the previous year’s figures. This figure is still slightly higher than the figure reported in 1998–99, and is much higher than the figures for burglaries reported for the years 1994–95 to 1997–98.

A follow-up campaign, Operation Halite, began on 28 October 2002. Analysis preceding the operation identified drug dependence as a major contributor to crime in the ACT. Operation Halitetherefore focused attention on those people supplying illegal drugs in the ACT. Under Operation Halitepolice targeted known recidivist offenders over long periods, rather than relying on large-scale, highintensity police operations for short periods. Despite this campaign, offences against property increased in 2002–03 by 11% on the previous year (see Table 1).

Table 1: Offences against property, 1998 to 2003, ACT
Category 1998–99 1999–2000 2000–01 2001–02 2002–03
Total offences 36,502 45,220 37,370 30,656 33,912
Resolution rate 13.0% 13.9% 12.0% 13.1% 13.1%
Apprehension rate 12.0% 10.9% 10.3% 11.8% 11.9%

But crimes against people rise

Offences against the person again constituted a small proportion of the total number of crimes reported during this reporting period, but include the most serious crimes, such as murder, manslaughter, assault, and sexually based crimes.

Over the last five financial years, the number of such offences has risen alarmingly, by over 1000 in total. Of particular concern is the large increase from 2001–02 to 2002–03 (an extra 585 reported offences, see Table 2). At the time of writing an AFP analysis of this trend was not available.

Table 2: Offences against the person, 1998-2003, ACT
Category 1998–99 1999–2000 2000–01 2001–02 2002–03
Total offences 2344 2453 2631 2765 3350
Resolution rate 53% 55.1% 59.3% 63.4% 58.5%
Apprehension rate 46.0% 40.1% 41.4% 45.6% 43.9%

Community concerns continue

The last two surveys on neighbourhood perceptions of crime show the ACT community is most concerned about the issue of illicit drugs, followed by housebreaking. In the previous report the findings of a ‘Neighbourhood perceptions of crime’ survey were reported. This survey was undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. A new survey is now being undertaken by ACNielson across all jurisdictions in Australia (see Table 3), so direct comparison is not appropriate.

Table 3: Neighbourhood perceptions of safety in the ACT
Community concern 2001–02 2002–03
Vehicle theft is a major problem in the neighbourhood 18.6% 15.6%
Housebreaking is a major problem in the neighbourhood 29.1% 25.8%
Graffiti or other vandalism is a major problem in the neighbourhood 13.8% 14.5%
Louts or gangs are a major problem in the neighbourhood 5.3% 7.1%
Drunken or disorderly behaviour is a major problem in the neighbourhood 4.7% 6.3%
Illicit drugs are a major problem in the neighbourhood 51.0% 46.9%
Family violence is a major problem in the neighbourhood 11.6% 12.8%

Source: ACNielson

The perception of a drug problem in the community is understandable, and not only because of the associated increase in property crimes. During 2001–02 the AFP undertook a campaign called Operation Skeetas a result of intelligence indicating an increase in illicit drug distribution and use at ACT nightclubs and dance parties. Amongst other objectives, the AFP undertook to publicise the danger of drink spiking and associated sexual assault.

A number of world and local events may have redefined how the ACT community regards the issue of safety. The events of September 11 in the United States, the Bali bombing in October 2002 and the recent war in Iraq have increased awareness of how vulnerable we are as world citizens.

Interestingly, an Australia-wide survey of wellbeing taken at intervals during the reporting period showed that Australians felt safer just after September 11, but less safe after the Bali bombing. Possibly the proximity of the episode in Bali, and the knowledge that Australians were one of the primary targets caused this decline in confidence.

Response to bushfire

Locally, two bushfires in the reporting period, one of which took lives and caused major property damage brought closer to home the reality that even though we think we live in a ‘safe’ city, outside influences can cause us to feel unsafe, both in our homes and in our community.

On the other hand, there was a drop in crime figures during the period of the 2003 bushfires. According to an information paper prepared by the AFP:

It is uncertain as to whether these decreases in the rate of crime were the result of a ‘good-will’ effect, whereby those who tend to commit crimes refrained from doing so due to the pervasive impact of the bushfires on the lives of many Canberra residents, or whether it was due to difficulties experienced by ACT Policing staff in using the PROMIS reporting system during the days following the bushfires. Difficulty was experienced using the PROMIS system for several days following the bushfires due to the damage caused by the bushfires at the AFP Weston Complex. The selected offences that declined during the five-day period after the bushfires were generally less serious crimes, and it may be conjectured that ACT Policing members chose not to record less serious offences on the PROMIS recording system, or that members of the public were less inclined during this period to report less serious crimes due to matters of more urgency affecting themselves and those around them. Nigel Gill, ACT Policing (pers. comm. 2003)

More police during 2000-03

Numbers of sworn police officers in the ACT increased slightly in all three years of the reporting period, but remained below the 1997–98 level. One community initiative to support the activities of police has been the Volunteers In Policing Program. Volunteers are trained in a variety of tasks which can release police officers to concentrate on their core duties. With the drop in numbers of sworn police officers since 1997–98, this initiative has become a vital link in the safety of the ACT community (see Table 4).

Table 4: Sworn police officers in the ACT, 1997-2003
Officers 1997–98 1998–99 1999–2000 2000–01 2001–02 2002–03*
Male n/a 538 474 463 458.4 n/a
Female n/a 125 110 134 144.3 n/a
Total 677 663 584 597 602.7 603.8

n/a = not available, * Draft figure at 18 June 03

Community programs help out

Other community programs to raise awareness of safety issues in the ACT include the Community Liaison and Advisory Project (CLASP), which aims to help elderly people living in the community with issues such as security – an important topic with burglaries and home invasion offences of particular concern in the community. Neighbourhood Watch continues to operate across the ACT. According to the AFP, there is an overall reduction in the volume of crime in communities with strong Neighbourhood Watch programs.

Data sources and references

AFP Annual Reports 2000–01 and 2001–02.

Australian Federal Police Statistician and other staff members including Nigel Gill, Performance & Evaluation Research & Policy ACT Policing

Australian Capital Region State of the Environment Report 2000, 2002, Office of the Commissioner for the Environment, Canberra.

Australian Unity Wellbeing Index Survey 5, Report 1, February 2003; Sourced from the Internet at:; Last accessed 21 January 2004.

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