Making sense of partnerships: A study of police and housing department collaboration for tackling drug and related problems on public housing estates


In recent years, interdepartmental partnerships within the public sector have been heralded as effective instruments for addressing complex social problems. However, though partnerships are widely promoted as a panacea within the sector, there is a paucity of research that has looked at them from a critical perspective or examined how they operate in practice. The aim of this project is to explore the realities of partnership working by focusing on collaboration between the police and housing departments to tackle problems associated with illicit drug activity and anti-social behaviour (ASB) on three Australian public housing estates. The rationale for the project is that, though only a small minority of tenants are perpetrators, their actions can seriously blight the lives of their neighbours. Usually it is the housing department that responds to complaints relating to ASB but, in the more serious cases that are deemed criminal, the police also perform a role. Three locations were chosen as case studies. East Devonport in Tasmania, Girrawheen in Western Australia, and Collingwood in Victoria are areas with large public housing stock where illicit drug activities are seen as increasing problems. The empirical component of the project entailed two stages. The first stage initiated meetings between the police and housing departments in order for them to agree to a memorandum of understanding on partnership protocols. The second stage reported on existing and new activities undertaken by both departments over a twelve month period. The research methods entailed participant observation, secondary data collection and qualitative interviews with key personnel. The findings from the case studies are structured around three thematic areas: setting up partnerships, the benefits of partnerships, and the obstacles that can impact on partnership working. (Executive summary, edited)