A Dose of Truth

When crime trends emerge on the street, there’s often a lag between police identifying their existence and statistics confirming them. The Medically Supervised Injecting Room in North Richmond is emblematic of this.

The April Survey

In late April The Police Association, prompted by regular requests by media for comment on the efficacy of the MSIR, surveyed members working in the Yarra PSA to gauge their experiences and insights about how the trial was impacting their work and crime trends in the vicinity of the facility.

The survey results indicated that nearly 80 per cent of members believed that crimes against the person, property crime, drug-related crime and anti-social behaviour had all increased, and changes needed to be made to the current MSIR model for it to work more efficiently and safely.

Media Commentary

In media interviews that followed publication of the survey results, TPAV secretary Wayne Gatt said The Association had carried out this survey in order to add context to the public debate about the merits of the MSIR trial and more importantly, to help refine the model going forward.

‘The Police Association did not stand in the way of this trial. Given the amount of public overdoses and deaths, we acknowledged that this was a serious health issue that needed to be addressed. Our members were often the first responders to overdoses,’ he said.

‘This survey was conducted to provide insight into how policing has been impacted by the trial.’

‘The Police Association has identified a range of improvements, informed by the survey results, that we believe should be considered moving forward. They include increasing police resources in the Yarra PSA to keep up with the increasing demands on police including crime and mental health incidents.’

‘We see a need also for a greater focus to be placed on welfare, including outreach and engagement with a wide range of resources, greater collaboration between police and staff at the MSIR and consideration to move the MSIR to a different location, away from residential and family areas.’ 

The Statistics That Matter 

In response, The Police Association applied for and was provided data from the Crime Statistics Agency relating specifically to the vicinity of the MSIR (The block bordered by Church, Highett, Hoddle and Victoria St,) comparing statistics from April 2017 – March 2018, with April 2018 – March 2019.

These statistics provide a far more refined and reflective picture of crime trends and policing experiences influenced by the MSIR.

The results largely confirm what our members told us.

Overall, the CSA data revealed that the overall number of recorded offences decreased by 0.5%, a relatively small decrease of five offences year to year.

In the TPAV survey, 62% of members surveyed said that crimes against the person had increased in the area around the precinct in which the MSIR is located.

Investigating the Syndey Model

In June, TPAV secretary Wayne Gatt travelled to Sydney to speak to long-serving police in Kings Cross about how crime and policing has been impacted by the Kings Cross United Medically Supervised Injecting Centre.

He said the first thing that stood out was the level of cooperation and engagement between police and staff at the centre.

Wayne Gatt and NSWPA Secretary Pat Gooley in Kings Cross

‘The operators of the facility are very pro-police, they held a view that was very pro-enforcement. They see the need for police to actively enforce possession, use and trafficking offences in the immediate vicinity of the centre to ensure that the potential anti-social issues tied to the centre are eradicated,’ he said.

‘They were very, very focused on ensuring partnerships existed and that included assisting police with ongoing inquiries and recognising that they had a legitimate role to play in ensuring that the facility operated to help people with health-related issues, not as a safe haven for crime.

‘It was a relationship and an understanding that had evolved over 20 years, that came to the realisation that the role of police is absolutely paramount in the success of the centre.’

Wayne said he spoke with many frontline police at Kings Cross to get an accurate picture on how their work had been impacted by the centre and whether it worked as a health facility.

‘I had a number of discussions with police who had worked at Kings Cross since the introduction of the centre, some very senior frontline police and none of them held an “anti-centre” sentiment,’ he said.

Every member he spoke to had been provided an induction and introduction to the centre and its staff.

‘They didn’t believe the centre had had any impact on the way they policed, it hadn’t wound back or seen a reduction in resources and it hadn’t seen spikes 
in crime. They cited cooperation as the principal reason for its integration into their work.’

He said a critical difference between the Sydney and Melbourne injecting centres was the location, with the Sydney facility situated in a commercial area compared to Melbourne’s more residential setting.

Another critical difference he observed was the high visibility of police in the vicinity of the Kings Cross centre.

‘What I saw was a strong police presence, both in foot patrols and van patrols and this was during a non-peak period of the day,’ he said.

‘After a number of hours walking up and down the street, I was astounded at the relatively low numbers of drug users in the area and the almost absence of anti-social behaviour in the proximity of the centre, which is in stark contrast to what our members said they have seen in the Richmond area during the research that we conducted.’ 

What I saw was a strong police presence, both in foot patrols and van patrols and this was during a non-peak period of the day.

By Brendan Roberts