Australian Institute of Criminology

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Executive summary

This report presents the findings from research conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) undertaken in partnership with ACT Policing (ACTP) to evaluate the operation and effectiveness of policing strategies directed at reducing and preventing alcohol-related violence in licensed premises and entertainment precincts in the Australian Capital Territory.

It should be acknowledged that since the writing of this report, ACTP has undergone some strategic organisational changes that coincide with some of the recommendations made in this report.

Alcohol, violence and licensed premises

The harm associated with the consumption of alcohol, particularly among young people, is an area of growing concern and presents a major challenge to all levels of government (MCDS 2006). Developing policies that attempt to influence drinking behaviour is notoriously difficult, largely because the consumption of alcohol is widely accepted as a significant part of Australian culture.

There is considerable evidence of an association between the excessive consumption of alcohol and a range of social, health and economic harms (Collins & Lapsley 2008). However, the relationship between alcohol and violence is a complex one. Research shows that heavy drinking and intoxication are associated with physical aggression (Plant, Plant & Thornton 2002; Wells & Graham 2003). However, the association between alcohol and aggression is the result of a complex interaction of the pharmacological effects of alcohol, individual factors, societal attitudes and values, and the drinking environment (Graham et al. 2006).

Licensed premises are a high-risk setting for alcohol-related violence and injury, with a large number of assaults occurring in or within very close proximity to hotels and nightclubs (Fitzgerald, Mason & Borzycki 2010). Research demonstrates a strong correlation between liquor outlet density and the incidence of multiple forms of social disruption, including assault, injury and drink driving, as well as impacting upon neighbourhood perceptions of crime and safety (Chikritzhs et al. 2007). Research has also shown that in any given area, a relatively small number of outlets are responsible for a disproportionate level of alcohol-related harm (Donnelly & Briscoe 2005).

Australian policy directed towards reducing the incidence of alcohol-related victimisation has been primarily concerned with regulatory responses that target licensed premises and liquor outlets (Loxley et al. 2005). Importantly, research has shown that legislation or regulations prohibiting (for example) the service of alcohol to minors or requiring the responsible service of alcohol (RSA), with the threat of penalties for breaches, are not sufficient on their own to encourage compliance. There is considerable evidence that the effectiveness of strategies that aim to restrict the sale and supply of alcohol, such as responsible beverage service programs, liquor accords, restrictions on the access to alcohol among young people and community prevention initiatives, is contingent upon the presence of a strong and reliable enforcement component (Loxley, Toumbourou & Stockwell 2004; NDRI 2007; Trifonoff & Nicholas 2008).

Research that has examined the effectiveness of interventions focusing specifically on policing has shown that, when appropriately targeted, enforcement can be an effective approach to reducing violence in licensed premises (Haines & Graham 2005). There is also growing recognition of elements of a best practice approach to policing licensed premises (Doherty & Roche 2003). However, attempts to implement evidence-based policing interventions have encountered several practical challenges and there is scope for further research and evaluation in this area.

Evaluation methodology

The AIC undertook a process and outcome evaluation of the ACTP response to alcohol-related crime in entertainment precincts over the 2009–10 summer period. This involved an evaluation of the following strategies:

  • Front-line policing, involving general duties officers patrolling entertainment precincts.
  • The Responsible Liquor Licensing Project (RLLP), which was a four-stage project developed and implemented by ACTP Crime Prevention and was designed to educate, facilitate and enforce responsible liquor licensing within the Civic (central business district) entertainment precinct.
  • Monitoring, regulation and enforcement of licensed premises in partnership with the Office of Regulatory Services (ORS).
  • Intelligence gathering and analysis to identify problematic locations and premises, which was designed to help inform front-line policing, enforcement operations and the RLLP.

This project sought to address the following key research questions:

  • What is the precise nature and level of alcohol-related crime associated with licensed premises in the Civic and Manuka/Kingston entertainment districts?
  • Were the policing strategies developed by ACTP to address alcohol-related crime in entertainment precincts implemented according to how they were designed and what factors impacted upon the operation of these strategies?
  • What characteristics of the ACTP approach to policing licensed premises contribute to their overall effectiveness as crime reduction strategies?
  • What impact does improved intelligence relating to violence and other alcohol-related offending in and around licensed premises have on the capacity of police to address alcohol-related crime in entertainment precincts?
  • What short-term impact does the proactive policing and enforcement strategies delivered as part of the ACTP response to alcohol-related crime in entertainment precincts have on:
    • the level of compliance with liquor licensing legislation and regulations?
    • the patterns of consumption and problematic drinking behaviour among patrons of licensed premises?
    • the nature and the level of alcohol-related harm in areas with a high concentration of licensed premises?

The AIC undertook this research project in the city of Canberra as it represents a relatively compact and manageable licensed environment. Canberra is unique in that there are a number of distinct but relatively small entertainment precincts, which were considered by the research team to be particularly suitable for the proposed research project.

The AIC’s role in this project was to manage the research and evaluation component, identify appropriate measures of performance, design and monitor the implementation of relevant data collection mechanisms, analyse the data collected and to provide feedback at regular intervals as to the efficacy of the interventions being implemented. A range of research techniques were employed to gather the information required to undertake the evaluation of policing strategies. These methods included:

  • stakeholder interviews;
  • observational research in and around licensed premises;
  • an online survey of the general community;
  • analysis of recorded offence and incident data from ACTP; and
  • a ‘place of last drinks’ form developed by the AIC and completed by general duties police officers.

Alcohol-related crime and violence in the Australian Capital Territory

The prevalence of alcohol-related problems associated with licensed premises in entertainment precincts is an area of growing concern among the ACT community, police and licensing authorities (ACT DJCS 2008). An analysis of recorded offence data (from 2005–06 to 2008–09) provided to the AIC by ACTP shows that:

  • there has been a general increase in the number of recorded assault offences in the Australian Capital Territory over the past four years, consistent with a trend nationally;
  • there has been a noticeable increase in the number of recorded assault offences in Civic;
  • almost two-thirds of all offenders charged with an assault-related offence in 2009 had consumed alcohol prior to the offence or were intoxicated at the time of being arrested;
  • in 2008–09, the majority of recorded assaults in Civic occurred between the hours of midnight and 3 am (34%) and between 3 am and 6 am (24%); in Kingston/Manuka, the proportion of total assaults peaked at 42 percent between the hours of midnight and 3 am; and
  • in 2008–09, 22 percent of assaults in Civic and 24 percent of assaults in Kingston/Manuka were recorded as having taken place on licensed premises, compared with eight percent of assaults in the Australian Capital Territory as a whole, and a significant number were recorded as having occurred in public places.

Prior to the intervention strategies (eg RLLP, Operation Unite) being implemented, AIC researchers accompanied ACTP to the Civic entertainment precinct to observe issues relating to the management of licensed premises, problems associated with licensed premises and intoxicated patrons, and to monitor existing police strategies in the entertainment precinct. A large number of patrons were observed that were noticeably affected by alcohol, many showing signs of being heavily intoxicated, particularly as the night went on.

The high density of licensed premises in the Civic area is perceived by many stakeholders as an important factor in contributing to the problems associated with alcohol in Civic (ACT DJCS 2008). Interviews with police and observations by the AIC research team in mid 2009 concluded that police beat teams spent a considerable amount of time patrolling those areas within Civic where there were multiple premises in close proximity to one another and responding to incidents as they occurred.

A 2007 report by the ACT Auditor-General highlighted a number of deficiencies in the regulation of liquor licenses in the Australian Capital Territory and increasing community concern regarding the problems associated with alcohol. A review of the Liquor Act 1975 was undertaken and led to the development of new liquor legislation. The new Liquor Act 2010 aims to:

  • strengthen the licensing regime so as to better reflect harm minimisation and community safety principles;
  • enable more effective enforcement of ACT liquor licensing legislation to encourage greater compliance; and
  • streamline the licensing regime to promote more effective and efficient regulatory action (ACT DJCS 2010: 2).

The new legislation will be supported by funding from the ACT Government and will permit ACTP to work with officers from ORS to enforce the new liquor reforms. This includes the development of a dedicated team of officers tasked with the responsibility of monitoring, regulation and enforcement of liquor licensing legislation in the Australian Capital Territory (in partnership with ORS).

A review of policing strategies in the Australian Capital Territory: Key findings

The AIC and ACTP elected to focus the current evaluation on reviewing the implementation and, where possible, the effectiveness of strategies that were designed to address problems in Civic during the intervention period. Key findings from the review of the implementation of these four strategies (outlined above) include the following:

  • Police, ORS and licensees highlighted the important role performed by ACTP in intervening in violent behaviour quickly to reduce the scale and severity of incidents in the Civic entertainment area.
  • While supportive of high-visibility and saturation-type policing strategies during peak times for alcohol-related crime and antisocial behaviour, both police and licensees acknowledged that the presence of police had little deterrent impact on the behaviour of those patrons affected by alcohol.
  • Police and licensees held differing views regarding the preferred focus of enforcement activity, with ACTP officers supportive of a greater focus on licensed premises and the majority of licensees more supportive of increased enforcement powers to deal with incidents of violence and antisocial behaviour among patrons.
  • Feedback from both licensees and ACTP suggested that ACTP Crime Prevention had used the RLLP to successfully re-establish communication and relationships with licensees in the Australian Capital Territory and that these workshops were viewed as an important means of communication, sharing ideas and developing solutions relating to common problems.
  • There was some evidence from ACTP and other stakeholders that while the early phases of the RLLP were successfully implemented, other phases encountered a number of problems.
  • Both ACTP and ORS inspectors reported that the sustained campaign of licensing inspections targeted at premises during busy trading periods during 2009–10 had the capacity to deliver improvements in compliance with liquor licensing conditions.
  • ACTP Intelligence had assisted operational decision-making by providing regular reports from an analysis of data from a number of sources; however, there was some scope to increase the coordination of information requests, improve the dissemination of findings and improve the quality of intelligence relating to alcohol-related offences.
  • Before the start of the 2009–10 summer period in the Australian Capital Territory, the AIC identified a gap in the data gathered by ACTP and the ability to link incidents to the place of last drink. The ‘place of last drink’ forms developed as part of this project to fill the information gap provided valuable intelligence on the relationship between specific licensed premises and alcohol-related incidents. However, there is a need to improve the implementation of these forms and make better use of the data collected.

Factors impacting upon the operation of ACT Policing strategies

A number of factors impacted upon some or all of the strategies implemented by ACTP:

  • Feedback from ACTP suggested that the availability of suitable resources was an ongoing issue that may have limited the capacity of ACTP to properly implement the full range of evidence-informed strategies directed at licensed premises.
  • There were clear differences in the enforcement priorities of ACTP and ORS, highlighting the importance of a mutual understanding of the different roles and responsibilities of each agency and the effective coordination of enforcement activity.
  • Limitations with the existing liquor licensing legislation, many of which will be overcome through the introduction of the new Liquor Act 2010, impacted upon the capacity of ACTP to effectively police licensed premises, particularly in terms of RSA.
  • The level of knowledge and understanding of liquor licensing legislation varied considerably among police, particularly in terms of understanding what action could be taken by ACTP against licensed premises.
  • The availability of intelligence for operational decision-making and performance monitoring purposes impacted upon ACTP’s capacity to identify problematic locations and premises and to assess the effectiveness of strategies designed to address them.
  • There was limited evidence of systems in place within ACTP to monitor the impact and effectiveness of strategies to address alcohol-related crime in entertainment precincts.
  • There was scope for all sections of ACTP to work together more effectively as part of a coordinated approach to policing entertainment precincts, with a particular emphasis on improved information sharing and collaborative strategies.
  • There was also scope to improve the relationship between ACTP and ORS which, while generally positive and highly valued, was sometimes limited by a lack of communication and differing priorities.
  • The design of licensed premises, service of alcohol to intoxicated patrons and behaviour of security staff all have the capacity to limit the effectiveness of ACTP in reducing the level of alcohol-related crime in and around licensed premises.

Strategies to address (or in some cases enhance) these factors need to be considered as part of future operational strategies targeting licensed premises.

Impact of policing strategies

The short-term impact of ACTP strategies targeting licensed premises on their compliance with liquor licensing legislation, alcohol-related violence and community safety was difficult to determine for a number of reasons:

  • There was a lack of clear agreement between the AIC and the ACTP as to the precise evidence-based strategies, that were to be subject to the evaluation, as well as being able to clearly define the intervention period.
  • A number of ACTP strategies were delivered simultaneously, and at the same time as strategies delivered by other agencies in the same locations, which made it difficult to determine the specific impact of each individual strategy delivered by ACTP in Civic during the intervention period.
  • There were limitations with the data collected by ACTP and ORS, particularly in terms of the capacity to identify alcohol-related offences.
  • The AIC instituted a number of new data collection tools and while they will assist in informing a longer term project, they were not implemented in full before and after the implementation of the strategies currently being evaluated.

The assessment of the short-term impact of the strategies implemented by ACTP over the 2009–10 summer period was therefore limited to:

  • findings from interviews with ACTP and licensees;
  • a comparison of recorded offences in the intervention area (Civic), a control area (Manuka/Kingston) and the wider Canberra region;
  • a comparison of findings from the observational research undertaken by AIC staff in the Civic and Manuka/Kingston entertainment precincts before and after the intervention periods;
  • analysis of data from the survey of community perceptions.

There were a number of findings surrounding the short-term impact of ACTP’s strategies.

  • Interviews with licensees suggested that there was little perceived risk associated with not complying with liquor licensing regulations (particularly as they related to serving alcohol to intoxicated patrons) and that the consequences of non-compliance were insufficient to act as a strong deterrent to future breaches.
  • Almost all licensees supported strong premises management practices, including RSA, although evidence as to whether these practices were being implemented was inconsistent and highlighted some of the practice barriers of adhering to strict management practices (such as refusing service to intoxicated and potentially aggressive patrons). This will, in some part, be addressed through new legislation and mandatory RSA requirements for bar staff, but will need to be supported by a strong enforcement and education component.
  • There were indications that problematic drinking behaviour remains at high levels and (along with the alcohol-related violence and antisocial behaviour) continues to be one of the most pressing concerns for the Civic entertainment precinct.
  • In addition to regulating the sale and supply of alcohol, there was strong support for strategies that are designed to help address problematic drinking behaviour and the culture of ‘drinking to get drunk’. In particular, there was support among both police and licensees to place some responsibility back onto individuals, ensure that individuals were held accountable for their own behaviour (particularly repeat offenders) and to encourage positive behaviour among patrons.
  • Several factors continue to limit the capacity of police to make a more significant impact on the levels of alcohol-related crime in entertainment precincts, including patron attitudes towards alcohol and its consumption, the management of licensed premises, advertising and promotion of cheap drinks and preloading (ie where patrons consume large amounts of cheap alcohol at home before visiting entertainment precincts and licensed premises).
  • A comparison between the number of recorded assaults in Civic, Manuka/Kingston and the wider Australian Capital Territory during the intervention period and previous years suggested that the strategies delivered by ACTP may have had a short-term impact on recorded offences in the Civic entertainment precinct. Consistent with previous research, this reduction may have been sustained over time if there was a strong and ongoing enforcement component beyond December 2009.
  • The AIC online survey did not permit pre and post intervention comparisons of perceptions of crime and safety because it was only implemented on one occasion towards the end of the intervention period. Nevertheless, an analysis of responses to the survey showed that:
    • a significant proportion of respondents believed crime had increased in entertainment precincts compared with 12 months ago, particularly in Civic;
    • a large proportion of respondents perceived alcohol-related violence and drunken and disorderly behaviour to be a significant problem in Civic and Kingston/Manuka; and
    • a large number of respondents indicated they had felt intimidated by the presence of a person under the influence of alcohol in these areas.

Recommendations for ACT Policing

Based upon the findings presented in this report, the AIC has prepared the following recommendations to improve the effectiveness of ACTP in dealing with the problems associated with licensed premises in entertainment precincts. These recommendations are targeted primarily at ACTP, but recognise that their role is as a part of a coordinated response to alcohol-related harms that involves a variety of other agencies such as ORS.

Table 1: Recommendations to improve the operation and effectiveness of the ACT Policing approach to policing licensed premises
Key feature of approach to licensed premisesRecommendation
Adoption of a clear long-term strategy to address alcohol-related crime and antisocial behaviour problems Develop and implement a clear long-term strategy for policing alcohol-related crime and antisocial behaviour in the Australian Capital Territory, with clear objectives and evidence-based strategies that align with the ACT Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Strategy 2010–2014.

The implementation of this strategy should be supported by high levels of communication and collaboration between relevant sections of ACTP, facilitated by the new liquor licensing team

More rigorous enforcement of liquor licensing legislation The primary focus of the new liquor licensing team should be on the enforcement of existing liquor licensing laws and (upon its introduction) the Liquor Act 2010. This would involve highly visible and regular operations targeted at problematic premises. These should be supported by a highly visible police presence to respond to and, where possible, deter offending behaviour in and around licensed premises.

Incidents of breaches of liquor laws, their prosecution and subsequent penalties should be widely promoted to other licensed premises to encourage compliance.

Appropriate mechanisms need to be developed that will enhance and increase communication and collaboration between ACTP and ORS

Intelligence-led policing of licensed premises There should be a focus on regular intelligence gathering and analysis of alcohol-related incidents as part of the new liquor licensing team. This may require a dedicated intelligence analyst.

The piloting of a ‘place of last drink’ form should be continued for a further year, with a view to integrating this information into mainstream data collection and information systems.

ACTP liquor licensing team should conduct an audit of existing information systems to determine the full range and availability of intelligence on alcohol-related incidents. Mechanisms to extract and analyse these data on a regular basis should then be established.

The importance of collecting high quality data on alcohol-related incidents, particularly those involving licensed premises, should be communicated to all ACTP officers

Monitoring alcohol-related problems and the response and impact of policing ACTP should develop appropriate and relevant performance indicators as part of a performance measurement framework to monitor the operation and impact of policing strategies in reducing the problems associated with alcohol and licensed premises. This may involve the inclusion of relevant performance indicators relating to alcohol-related violence and liquor licensing activity within the purchase agreement between ACT Government and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for policing services in the Australian Capital Territory
Workforce and organisational development An ongoing program of training should be developed to provide officers within the new liquor licensing team and front-line officers likely to have some contact with licensed premises and involvement in ACT Civil & Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) hearings, with training relating to the new liquor licensing legislation and role of police.

The AIC should continue to work with ACTP in an advisory role to provide advice on good practice and new and emerging research on policing and the effective management of licensed premises

Working with licensees, managers and security ACTP should, in partnership with ORS, continue to work closely with licensees and bar staff, taking a proactive approach to providing clear and consistent messages and advice on key aspects of liquor licensing legislation.

Regular meetings and/or workshops involving ACTP liquor licensing team, other relevant sections of ACTP, ORS, licensees, security staff and other key stakeholders should be held to assist in the transfer of information and advice regarding aspects of liquor licensing, the effective design and management of licensed premises and emerging problems and solutions relating to alcohol and crime.

Front-line officers should continue to liaise with security staff to assist in the effective management of premises and their surrounding areas, and to capture information that may assist police in detecting and apprehending offenders

Alcohol counselling and treatment Steps need to be taken to improve the referral to and availability of alcohol counselling, education and treatment services for persons who are admitted to the ACTP watch house for alcohol-related offences or who are intoxicated, as well as those individuals who are admitted to ACT sobering-up shelter.

There should be clear linkages between these services and police to enable effective diversion of offenders who commit more minor alcohol-related offences, such as property or disorderly conduct offences, into treatment or counselling

Developing strategies to reduce the consumption of alcohol The ACTP should work in partnership with other agencies (eg ACT Health and representative bodies for licensed premises such as the Australian Hotels Association) to develop and promote strategies that may help to address attitudes that support the excessive consumption of alcohol, especially among young people
Further research and evaluation Further research should be undertaken to evaluate the impact of the Liquor Act 2010 and its enforcement by police and regulatory authorities, as well as research into the impact of proposed changes to the organisational structure of police and introduction of a new team dedicated to liquor licensing