Melbourne injecting centre a ‘one stop shop for crime’, says police union boss

Published by The Australian on May 22, 2019

Victoria’s police union boss says the opening of a safe injecting centre in inner Melbourne has created a “one stop shop” for crime.

Victorian Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt said the findings of a survey of the union’s members say crime, including theft and property offences, have increased as addicts flood to the safe injecting centre in Richmond.

“Some anecdotally would characterise it as a one-stop shop syndrome,” he told 3AW.

“Where people come to the area, they can trade in the crime that derives money, they can buy drugs in that area, which was always a problem in that area.”

“Now they have an area where they can use the drugs in a medically safe way.”

The Richmond injecting centre trial opened last year and is halfway through a trial phase.

The clinic, which is next to a primary school, received strong community support before it opened but has since been plagued by reports of public drug use, property damage and antisocial behaviour.

The area has a long history with heroin with staff from the North Richmond Community Health centre attending on average 59 overdoses a year with most taking places in gutters and a nearby car park. The clinic says its safely managed 650 overdoses since it opened.

Mr Gatt said 58 per cent of the respondents to the survey said their workload had increased with the opening on the centre, with police increasingly called to mental health episodes and to perform welfare checks as homelessness increases in the area.

“They deal with mental health issues, crisis in the community … they’re seeing an increase in callouts in respect to that,” he said.

“They’re also seeing an increase in welfare checks to people who are apparently drug affected in the streets in the vicinity of the room.”

Mr Gatt said there were a couple of hundred of police officers in the area but survey respondents said they needed more resources to ensure the community remained safe.

“Our members say if we are going to get called out more frequently to deal with crime … if we’re going to get called out to deal with mental and welfare checks of people in the streets … we simply need more police to do that.”

Mr Gatt said police had suggested the safe injecting room should be moved to an industrial area away from families and residences.

Police Minister Lisa Neville said the safe injecting centre was a new model in which the kinks were being worked out.

“I get the pressure that police are feeling, it is a new model,” she said.

“There’s no doubt there are changes happening here ... it’s saving lives and we want to get this right for everyone in that community.”

Ms Neville said drug use was a longtime issue and the clinic was a public health response.

“Drug use has always been a major factor and concern for community members in that area [and] this is a public health response,” she said.

“In addition police have additional resources out there, they’re targeting trafficking in the area.”