Friday 29 August 2008

Cairns - a safe city?

Here's a Friday morning joke.

Cairns is applying for accreditation as a "Safe Community" that is sanctioned by the World Health Organisation. Yes, you did read that right.

A couple of WHO clipboarders are in town today to assess a Council application for Safe City status. Cairns Regional Council say this inspection "comes after years of improving community safety."

Are they out of their mind?

Cairns has one of the most out of control crime problems of any regional city in the country. It's time for an audit alright, but not with the intention to award a Council for a job well done. I know the problem for such violence doesn't rest solely on the Council. Far from it. However, there is little strategic approach or vision to work for active solutions.

I've been a long-time advocate for such a reform in our region. I've met with the Safe City manager and the Mayor of the Wellington City Council, who earn't their Safe City stripes some time ago. They did a huge amount of work, including introducing the inspirational community liaison officers that walk the beat and help visitors and those who need help around the clock. They also ditched all but one of the CCTVs. We now have 70 plus, with more on the way under Councillor Alan Blake's plan to rid the town of deviants and trouble makers. This is lazy policing.

I blogged about this subject last December after returning from a meeting with the Mayor Prendergast and her Council. I also highlighted soon after the new Council was sworn in, about the need for a strategic rethink on how we deal with violence in our city.

Cr Di Forsyth who is aiming to champion the safer city campaign, and is well qualified to do so, given her background in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and that's not just when she's at the Media Mix drinks. Di says that a broad partnership of community groups had combined since 1994 to work towards the accreditation. This is all very well, but it divorces the Council from any ownership of the problem at distances itself from contributing to a solution.

"These community groups’ efforts to make Cairns a safer place," she says. "Programmes like Midnight Basketball – Hoop Dreaming; Forest Gardens child safety kits; Forest Gardens walking bus; Violence No Way; Fall Prevention in Older People."

How lazy is that? We get a list of community groups, however laudable, with vague agendas that hardly relate to the objectives of a Safe City assessment.

They also cite the Queensland Transport Cairns Amateurs and Port Douglas Carnivale Alcohol and Road Safety Intervention. They simply tried to ban people from taking any alcohol with them into Cannon Park races last year. This makes for a safer city? Give me a break.

"Council has also increased lighting, installed closed circuit television cameras, adjusted taxi ranks and bus stops to improve safety in the Cairns CBD," says Forsyth.

CCTV installation is a legacy of the former Byrne-led Council where the only solution was to throw a heap of money at closed circuit TVs all over the effing town. And what have the 70 cameras discovered? They've caught a young English backpacker having a pee over the boardwalk late one night (and arrested him and marched him off to court on the Monday morning), and a few litter bugs.

Byrne told me back in 2000, they increased the number of cameras from 19 to 41 in 2004. Now there are nearly 60 cameras dotted around the city. In Brisbane, with a population of 1.8 million, they have 16 cameras.

“Queensland Police were able to report a fall in crime from the 2005/2006 financial year to the 2006/2007 financial year in the Safe Communities application,” Councillor Di Forsyth says.

“We are aware that there are still safety issues to be addressed and if this application is successful, Cairns will report annually to maintain the Safe Community recognition,” she said.

Whoopie. What is Council strategic approach? Where's the real community interaction?

This week's Cairns Sun, delivered across the region on Wednesday, will be the last cover page that these WHO safety inspectors will be keen to see, let alone this Council. It's yet another example of little strategic approach to crime and safety.

Barry Neall, a long-time vocal advocate for a change in resources towards crime prevention, is stunned by Council's application to the WHO. Neall set up Residents Against Crime a year ago to highlight and get some action, after he saw violet story after violent story appears every other day. He now publicises every attack and reports incidents on his blog.

"I've had hardly any backing for this awareness campaign," Barry told CairnsBlog. "I saw former Councillor Freebody come out the other week about the crime problem, saying that we should send the problem kids away to a Boot Camp."

"As if that's the solution! I don't recall Freebody championing this issue while he was in Council at all, it was only after he had a break in at his Car Wash café business. Doubt he'd even raise it if he wasn't the victim of a crime."

Barry Neall thinks this approach for accreditation from the WHO is a huge sick joke. "It’s all bullshit, really. How can they think we have a safe city?"

Late last month, Neall flew to Brisbane on his own expense as a concerned citizen to meet with Meeting with Police Minister Judy Spence, and was granted an audience for an hour, to express in great detail the crime and violence in Cairns.

"The Minister was extremely interested in what was going on up here, especially coming from the community level," Barry Neall said.

In June, he co-ordinated a public meeting which attacked 300 people to address the problems at a community level.

He has now convinced the Police Minister to come to a second public forum to be held on Tuesday September 16th at 7pm. This will be held at the DeJarvis Pavilion at the Show Grounds, and will be chaired by John McKenzie. Macca's appearance alone will be worth the entry ticket.

The Police Minister is insistent to bring along her local Member for Cairns, Desley Boyle, however there is an element of denial from the local MP about the crime problem here in Cairns.
In an April 4th leaked email to CairnsBlog, Desley Boyle says the impression of crime in Cairns isn't true.

"From what I heard of the Mackenzie show, it is no wonder you got the impression that the streets of Cairns are not safe and that crime is rampant. This is in fact not so," Boyle wrote. "Yes there are offences and yes the police need to respond hard and fast. But media have a responsibility too not to get people disproportionately and unduly alarmed."

Thanks Desley. Yet again you have your head firmly buried in the sand. Probably the sand in front of the Yacht Club building.

Fellow Labor MP Warren Pitt, Member for Mulgrave, also chimed in on the she'll-be-right bandwagon. "I understand my colleague, the Honourable Desley Boyle has responded to your email and I fully endorse her actions. Thank you for putting your concerns in writing to me." he wrote in an email 92 minutes after Boyle's.

I may be a bit of a leftie, but this Labour government is way out of touch with reality.

I hope a bunch of Councillors will head across the ditch to the International Safe Communities Conference that is being hosted Christchurch 20th October.

Deputy Mayor Margaret Cochrane, is throwing her full support behind Barry Neall's campaign, and has helped organise the venue for the September public meeting at no cost.

Where's the Council's White Paper on this most pressing subject? Where's there full-time Safe City Officers? Do we have any? That's the real crime.


Anonymous said...

A "Safe Communities" conference in Christchurch? Did I read that right???? I was chased by members of the "Mongrel Mob" in that bloody city. Luckily for me, I was fit and able to run like Ursain Bolt himself, to a cab rank. The cabbie shot off like a bullet and probably saved the both of us from a mugging. Christchurch? What a joke.

Anonymous said...

We palpably need a police presence, especially in the CBD at weekends, where rowdy, drunken behaviour rules the roost. Good old foot patrols are what's urgently required here!

Anonymous said...

No community can be safe while all its newspapers are in the hands of one media empire, the Murdoch Press, which:

- glorifies illegal wars
- glorifies macho culture
- make millions promoting booze
- ferments divisive moral panics
- is incapable of intelligent analysis
- is unwilling to engender rational debate

The only safety possible with a media like that is the relative and very temporary safety enjoyed by cattle.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous above is right. However, over the years I can remember, time and time again, since the 1980s, we have been given "foot patrols", then more "foot patrols" and MORE "foot patrols". After a while, they disappear, sucked up into that bottomless void which is the rank and file of the constablary. Here today, gone tomorrow!
We need a PERMANENT foot and bicycle force of police based within the city proper and inner suburbs.

Anonymous said...

I believe this may be the least safe city in Australia lol...

I just moved here, and I’m not sure how long I’ll stay. After all there is only really two half decent suburbs - that would be Edge Hill and Whitfield. I probably wouldn't even recommend walking around in them at night time. The thing that pisses me off the most is that most of the locals have never traveled of their blood veranda and when you mention the crime rate to them they say it's "just like any city really", which is such a crock of shit. THERE IS A REAL PROBLEM HERE, I JUST WISH EVERYONE WOULD REALISE IT!