Venue observations study

Criminology Research Council grant ; (25/95-6)

The aims of the report are to sketch the theoretical basis of a series of safety action projects in three diverse North Queensland cities (Cairns, Townsville and Mackay), and to report some results. These projects, which aimed to improve the safety of licensed environments in the central city entertainment areas, are replications of the safety action model developed in Surfers Paradise.

Key features of the approach include creating a steering committee and community forum; forming task groups to address safety of public spaces, management of venues, and security and policing; encouraging venue managers to introduce a Code of Practice; and regulating managers through informal community processes as well as formal enforcement. The model is based on: prior experience with community interventions; the theory of situational crime prevention; and regulatory theory.

The results are based on police data and on unobtrusive direct observations by patron-observers of aggression, drinking, and serving practices in licensed venues in the three cities in September 1994 and October 1996. The interventions took place in each city during 1995 and early 1996. From the observational data, there was a decline of 56.5% in all aggressive and violent incidents, and a decline of at least 75% in physical assaults, although conclusions concerning direct causality cannot be drawn. These declines, which did not differ significantly between cities, coincided with reductions in the levels of perceived "permissiveness" in venues, increases in sociability, cheerfulness and friendliness, and a range of significant improvements in host responsibility practices and a marked decline in levels of male drunkenness. Patronage (and crowding) increased and prices stayed the same, suggesting no decline in levels of profitability.

Police data for Cairns and Townsville, but not Mackay, showed reductions in many types of street offences corresponding to the periods when the project officer was active or the Code of Practice was implemented, but there are difficulties in interpreting the police data (especially in Townsville). There are also good reasons for not expecting a close correlation between police data on street offences and observations of behaviours within venues, since many incidents within venues are not reported or recorded. Overall, the police data for Cairns and Townsville, but not Mackay, are consistent with the reductions in aggression observed within venues.

Assuming some causal impact of the interventions, identification of "critical" components is problematic, one conclusion being that there are many paths to the same destination. However, whatever intervention techniques are employed, a reduction in male drunkenness seems important to reduce physical violence.