By Sean Lennon
MELBOURNE — The Victorian Police force has misrepresented the extent of crime in an effort to gain more money and powers, according to a report released on August 4 by the Federation of Community Legal Centres.
The report states that the police campaign has been assisted by the media. "Dependency on police for information means that many journalists are careful not to antagonise police by writing critical stories."
The report expresses concern at the way the police use crime statistics to push for increases in power and resources. One example is a speech by chief commissioner Kel Glare in April 1992 in which he stated that the crime problem in Victoria was "one of the worst in the Western world, and as a police we are losing the battle". Glare said that he believed Victoria needed 1500 to 2000 more police and he could place an extra 1000 immediately.
Glare's figures were based on a 1989 study by the Australian Institute of Criminology which compared crime rates in 17 developed countries. The chief commissioner failed to point out two factors which resulted in Victoria being placed high in the survey. Australia is by far the most urbanised of the countries surveyed, and this makes a marked difference in the recording of crime. In addition the survey was done in an Australian summer and European winter. Summer crime rates are about 40% higher than winter crime rates.
Police exaggerate crime to protect their own interests. Comments made last year by the secretary of the Police Association, Senior Sergeant Danny Walsh, in response to predicted police budget cuts,
typify this approach: "My advice to the people of Victoria is that they should sleep with one eye open and one hand on a baseball bat, because this police force will not be able to protect them".
" After years of stories exaggerating the incidence of crime, many people now live with a fear of crime which is out of proportion to the reality", says the report. In a 1987 Bureau of Statistics survey, 73% thought there was a high rate of crime in Victoria but only 18% thought their local area had a high crime rate. This "sharp difference between people's direct experience of crime and their overall perception ... is largely shaped by the police-driven media".
The report paints a much less alarming picture about crime. It cites figures from the Bureau of Statistics which show an increase of only 7% in major crimes from 1986-87 to 1990-91.
Glare has actually said publicly that "I have been ... in part responsible for the creation of the fear of crime and I have done that quite deliberately and dispassionately ... fear of crime is unjustified for the majority of people in the sense that they will not become victims ..."
The report points out that both major parties have fallen over themselves to give the police what they want. In response to a police campaign for increased powers to deal with weapons, the government agreed even though it was shown that the police figures on knife attacks were wrong. "When the legislation was proposed legal services and the Victorian Council For Civil Liberties complained that the legislation was unnecessarily draconian and could result in people being charged for carrying objects that were not weapons. The legislation was passed and as a result police charged dozens of people with wearing studded belts to keep their pants up."
According to the report, a mere 1.57% of all offences are against the person. Statistics have time and again shown that violent crime is most often perpetuated where the victim knows the offender.
"A substantial amount of police time is used responding to calls relating to domestic violence", states the report. "However, research indicates that police do not assist women when they attend because of attitudes which attach inappropriate stereotypes to male and female behaviour. Police refuse to lay criminal charges even when there is evidence of serious assaults and the victim wants the perpetrator charged."
The police inaction on domestic violence should be compared with their zeal in other areas. One example is Operation Noah, the annual drugs phone-in. "For a decade police told the public
that Operation Noah was catching the Mr Bigs dealing in hard drugs. An analysis done by the Federation of Community Legal Centres found that the charges arising out of the phone-in were overwhelmingly for the use and possession of marijuana."
The report recommends that the police receive no increase in funding in the next state budget and that police numbers be cut by 20% over five years. It also recommends measures to make the police more accountable to the public, such as an external complaints tribunal. It calls for more money to be spent on support services such as the child exploitation unit, domestic violence services and liaison with the Koori and gay communities. At present these services receive a mere 1.38% of the half billion dollars for police in the last budget.
The report criticises the increase in police powers and funding by the Labor government, pointing out that this is being done at the expense of other areas such as health, education, housing and employment — which, if better provided, would
help to reduce the amount of crime.