The Walcha crime report

Criminology Research Council grant ; (11/85)

The perception of crime and the policing practices in a rural Australian community was the focus of the research. The location for the research was the town and district of Walcha, New South Wales. Size, rural qualities, presence of a police station and accessibility were the reasons for selecting Walcha.

The research examined a wide range of crime related issues. The study specifically examined attitudes concerning crime, crime avoidance behaviours, victimisation experiences, perceptions of criminals, the extent of criminality in the previous century, rural policing and a variety of community issues. The research used several different methodological approaches, such as an historical analysis of official crime records, a detailed literature review of rural crime studies, observation analysis based on the Walcha police station and interviews with a random sample of the adult population. Interviews were carried out with a random sample of 191 individuals living in Walcha and the surrounding district.

The analysis of available court and police records from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries provided the historical perspective on crime in Walcha. Public order offences have been the main problem encountered by police in Walcha in both centuries. The main differences between the past and the present have been the disappearance of labour relations from the criminal justice agenda and the proportionate decrease per head of population of the official crime rate.

Respondents did not report high levels of concern or fear of crime. Walcha was generally perceived to be safer than other rural towns and much safer than urban areas such as Sydney. However, respondents indicated a reasonably high level of crime avoidance behaviours and a significant level of crime victimisation. Approximately 14 per cent of respondents claimed that they had been victims of crime in the preceding twelve months. Most of the crimes were minor and the majority were not re- ported to the police.

Community satisfaction with the local police was extremely high. The local police engaged in four basic categories of police work namely, proactive policing, reactive policing, welfare and bureaucratic work. Each police role is described and analysed and related to community conditions. Respondents reported frequent exposure to the news media, but cited informal sources as their main source of crime news.

Finally, the theoretical, policy and practical implications of the research are discussed. Policing strategies and practices in rural areas are considered in the light of these findings, as well as the development of community crime prevention programs.