Western Australia’s liquor industry and local police in the North-West have combined forces to combat alcohol fuelled violence which local authorities say has resulted in unprecedented outcomes, to the point where the Town of Port Hedland has recorded some of its “best crime statistics in years”.
The positive collaboration between the Port Hedland Liquor Accord members and WA Police has led to the formulation of a new “Hedland Liquor Strategy” which operates in the spirit of the impending Banned Drinkers Register trial for the Pilbara.
The initiative has included several elements including a focus on vehicle registrations and individuals attending liquor stores in South and Port Hedland.
Western Australia’s Pilbara region, which includes Port Hedland, Karratha and Newman, generates around 70-billion dollars of the nation’s wealth in mining and gas exports every year, but it has been a troublesome spot for police in more recent times, namely around substance abuse and the associated issues.
The new “Hedland Liquor Strategy” has led to a significant fall in burglaries, domestic violence, assaults, and in turn a reduction in people in custody.
The plan has been in train since late March when the COVID-19 measures were put in place.
Officer in Charge of South Hedland Police, Senior Sergeant Jeremy Marklew said the system is open and transparent throughout the community.
“Dating back to late last year we asked licensees to monitor at certain times of the day to take down the vehicle registrations and monitor individuals who may have been problematic within the vicinity of liquor stores”.
Officer Marklew said licensees or their store managers would take note of people’s offensive behaviour or signs of drunkenness before noting or reporting the vehicle registration number to police.
“Ultimately it’s about responsible service of alcohol and the responsible level of consumption” officer Marklew said.
With the advent of COVID-19 and a temporary spike in some incidents in late March the reporting and banning of vehicles and individuals ramped up.
“The process involved a daily text message to all licensees or the store managers advising the number of incidents from the previous night and details of vehicle registrations” he explained.
“As a collective we banned identifiable problem drinkers from buying alcohol for 24-hours.”
“During one point we didn’t have any burglaries for two weeks (across South and Port Hedland). In the whole time we have been running this initiative we’ve only had five burglaries, which, for this town is unheard of” said Officer Marklew.
“Throughout April and May domestic violence dropped by 20-percent, assaults have been down 20-percent, alcohol incidents have also been down between 15-20 percent”.
“Damage and theft offences are also significantly down, by almost 40%, compared to the previous year and businesses and householders often call or comment about the reduction of crime and anti-social behaviour in the community”.
As a result, there has been a 15-percent reduction in police call outs and a 40-percent reduction in St John Ambulance call outs.
“There’s also been a reduction of nearly 40-percent of people being held in police custody, compared to the previous year” officer Marklew added.
He also stressed the initiative was coordinated under existing measures of the ACT, with the full support of the Port Hedland Liquor Accord members and with limited resources.
Liquor Accord Chairman Brent Rudler said the Hedland Liquor Strategy was a clear demonstration of local police and local businesses working together for a common good.
“We have always worked well with the authorities, but Jeremy and his team have really stepped it up a gear. It has been strategic and tactical but at the same time we as an industry have bought in and complied because we can see the benefits, and the statistics speak for themselves” he said.
Mr Rudler, a former Mayor of the Town of Port Hedland and a board member of the Liquor Stores Association, said the work carried out by industry and police is significant especially as the time narrows in on the start of the two year trial of the Pilbara Banned Drinkers Register (BDR).
“The BDR will involve different measures like people having to show ID if they want to buy alcohol, but it will be reliant on people being registered and placed on the banned list. That can only work if there are processes and protocols in place for the industry and police to follow”.
Officer Marklew, who has been strong on community engagement in Hedland and no stranger to spearheading positive social media campaigns, noted the work undertaken in Port and South Hedland would lay a strong foundation once the BDR came into effect.
“Anything that can benefit the community and eliminate anti-social behaviour while providing a positive landscape is only a good thing. I want to acknowledge all the stakeholders for working together on this initiative, including Inspector Craig Parkin up here with me, my fellow officers and of course the industry” he added.
Liquor Stores Association CEO Peter Peck, said the bonus with the BDR was the provision of wrap around, health and therapeutic services offered to people placed on the banned list.
“This isn’t about eliminating people’s choice. It is about recognising that alcohol for a small number of people is simply a form of self-medication. We need to dig deeper to unearth the core root of the issue that drives people’s self-destructive behaviour”.
“At the end of the day, the best reward to anyone being on the Banned Drinkers Register is to engage with the services provided and set the goal of getting off it” Mr Peck said.
It is expected the two-year trial of the Banned Drinkers Register in the Pilbara will start in late 2020.