Australian Institute of Criminology

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Summary and recommendations

Based upon the findings presented in this report, the AIC has prepared the following recommendations to assist ACTP improve the effectiveness of strategies dealing with the problems associated with licensed premises in entertainment precincts. These recommendations are primarily targeted at ACTP, but recognise their role as part of a coordinated response to alcohol-related harms. In developing these recommendations, the AIC has given consideration to changes to liquor licensing and the regulation of licensed premises in the Australian Capital Territory through the introduction of the new Liquor Act 2010, as well as proposed changes to ACTP to support these reforms.

A clear, long-term strategy for policing alcohol-related crime and antisocial behaviour in the Australian Capital Territory

Overall, the implementation of the ACTP’s approach to policing licensed premises over the 2009–10 summer period and the various external factors that impacted upon the effectiveness of this approach, have highlighted the need for ACTP to develop a clear, long-term strategy for policing licensed premises and alcohol-related crime in the Australian Capital Territory. This strategy should articulate clear objectives, the full range of policing strategies designed to address alcohol-related crime and antisocial behaviour (including the problems associated with licensed premises), and roles and responsibilities of all key stakeholders. This strategy should be aligned with the ACT Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Strategy 2010–2014 (ACT Health 2010).

This will help to ensure a common understanding of what ACTP is seeking to achieve in relation to policing licensed premises and alcohol-related crime. It will also help to ensure that different sections within ACTP (including general duties, traffic, crime prevention, drug and alcohol policy, intelligence and the new liquor licensing team) understand what each section contributes to the strategy and the various roles and responsibilities of these sections. Moreover, it will help guide the allocation of resources by setting clear responsibilities for each section, as well as ensuring there is a long-term and sustained approach to the problems associated with alcohol. It should be sufficiently flexible so as to allow for adaptation as new and emerging issues arise and highlight the collaborative strategies that involve police, but for which police are not necessarily the lead agency.

Enforcement of liquor licensing legislation

The main area in which ACTP can directly contribute to a reduction in the problems associated with alcohol is through the enforcement of liquor licensing laws. This will be particularly important with the introduction of the new legislation. To date, the majority of enforcement activity undertaken by ACTP has been directed at patrons. There is little evidence of formal action being taken against licensed premises for intoxication-related offences. The majority of action during the evaluation period was initiated by ORS and related to underage patrons and offences relating to the management of premises. This reflects the trend in other jurisdictions (Donnelly & Briscoe 2005; Fleming 2008). A strong and effective approach to enforcing prevailing legislation is important, not only because it can increase compliance, but because it is fundamental to the effectiveness of other mechanisms such as mandatory responsible service of alcohol training and liquor accords (or similar informal collaborative strategies involving police and licensees, such is the case in the Australian Capital Territory; Nicholas 2008).

Amendments to the liquor licensing legislation within the Australian Capital Territory will help overcome some of the barriers to the effective enforcement of compliance by licensees and premise staff. However, it is widely acknowledged that compliance with liquor licensing legislation is contingent upon there being a strong deterrent—a real risk of apprehension and prosecution for violations of liquor licensing, particularly as it relates to the service of alcohol to intoxicated patrons. Therefore, the AIC recommends that the primary focus of the new licensing team, supported by general duties officers working in entertainment precincts during peak periods, be directed towards the enforcement of new and (up until the introduction of the new Liquor Act 2010) existing legislation. This should include highly visible operations conducted regularly and without notice, with any breaches and subsequent actions publicised widely to other licensed premises.

The regulation of the sale and supply of alcohol will require effective collaboration between ACTP and ORS, who share responsibility for enforcing the provisions of the new Liquor Act 2010. This will involve joint operations supported by the sharing of intelligence relating to problematic premises and action (formal or informal) taken, and will require a high level of communication and coordination of resources.

Intelligence-led policing of licensed premises

A fundamental prerequisite for the effective enforcement of liquor laws is the presence and availability of high-quality data, shared among those agencies with responsibility for responding to breaches of these laws when they occur (ie police and licensing authorities; Donnelly & Briscoe 2005). The benefits of operational intelligence have already been described at length in this report.

As part of the new liquor licensing team, there needs to be a focus on intelligence gathering and analysis to help inform a targeted approach to problematic premises or locations. This may require a dedicated intelligence analyst with responsibility for analysing and reporting data on alcohol-related offences as well as monitoring the impact of policing strategies (see below). Two recent developments will enhance ACTP’s capacity in this area. First, the recent introduction of an alcohol involvement flag within the PROMIS database, which will enable ACTP to identify those offences that involve alcohol. Regular analysis of these offences, including temporal and spatial analyses, will enable ACTP to more effectively target those locations or times that are most problematic.

The second enhancement in this area is the introduction of PLD data. The development and implementation of a PLD form by ACTP in partnership with the AIC highlighted the potential value of additional intelligence sources in informing policing strategies targeted at entertainment precincts. There is sufficient evidence to support a continuation of the use of these forms, with a view towards integrating PLD data into mainstream data collection and information systems (as was the case in New South Wales). Nevertheless, there is scope for improvement and several strategies have already been identified to improve the consistency, quality and utility of data collected by police, including:

  • providing training for police officers involved in administering the forms on their purpose and implementation;
  • disseminating brief guidelines to all general duties officers outlining steps in completing the forms, including sample completed forms;
  • integrating reports on the total number of forms completed and intelligence gathered into regular briefings involving senior police; and
  • implementing regular briefings to ensure that information obtained from the forms is relayed back to officers likely to have some contact with licensed premises.

While the AIC was unable to obtain these data for the purpose of the evaluation, reports from ACTP suggest that similar PLD data are collected from drivers apprehended for driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit. This is another source of useful intelligence that should be collected, analysed and reported by an intelligence analyst within the new liquor licensing team. The importance of collecting high-quality data on alcohol-related incidents, particularly those involving licensed premises, should be communicated to all ACTP members.

There is also an increasing recognition of the need for more comprehensive and coordinated systems incorporating multiple data sources. In response to findings from an audit report into the role of police and regulatory authorities in reducing alcohol-related crime (NSW Audit Office 2008), the Alcohol-Related Crime Information Exchange was developed by NSW Police in partnership with the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing. The purpose of this system was to ensure information associated with licensed premises would be readily accessible to officers from both agencies. This was designed to enable both agencies to more effectively target high-risk premises as part of a coordinated approach. Consideration should be given to establishing similar mechanisms in the Australian Capital Territory to enable improved information sharing between ACTP and ORS.

Monitoring alcohol-related problems and the response and impact of policing

Related to the issue of operational intelligence is the need for adequate mechanisms for monitoring alcohol-related problems and the implementation and impact of policing strategies. Regular analysis (by an intelligence analyst) of key indicators of alcohol-related crime and of policing activity would permit an assessment of the impact of policing on the harms associated with alcohol in entertainment precincts.

The AIC identified a number of different sources of data maintained by ACTP that may help to build an understanding of the level and trends in alcohol-related crime and impact on policing within the Canberra region. Key sources of information collected and stored by police include:

  • offence data recorded in PROMIS, particularly as it relates to offences that occur in entertainment precincts or are identified as alcohol-related;
  • incident data relating to calls for police attendance and incidents attended by police (police initiated, CCTV and calls from the general public);
  • data relating to admissions to the ACTP watch house (including those admitted who are intoxicated and who are arrested for alcohol-related offences);
  • data on drink driving offences.
  • Additional data are also maintained by other agencies, such as:
  • records pertaining to breaches of the liquor licensing legislation and formal action against licensed premises and their operators, maintained by ORS;
  • data on admissions to the ACT’s sobering-up shelter; and
  • hospital admissions, emergency and ambulance data, collected and stored by ACT Health, relating to presentations for alcohol-related injury and assault.

The AIC recommends that ACTP develop appropriate performance indicators as part of a performance framework to monitor the impact of policing strategies in reducing the problems associated with alcohol and licensed premises. There is an absence of similar models in other jurisdictions on which to draw, which means that some exploratory and scoping work may be required. However, there is considerable work and experience in the area of drug law enforcement on which to draw (Willis, Homel & Anderson 2010). Development of such a framework would be innovative and may provide a national model that could be adopted in other jurisdictions. A number of suggested quantitative and qualitative indicators, originally developed to guide the current evaluation, are outlined in Appendix 3 for consideration. These would require further review and refinement on the basis of new and improved data on alcohol-related incidents. In addition to a performance framework for the policing of licensed premises, the inclusion of relevant performance indicators relating to alcohol-related violence (and other crime) and liquor licensing activity within the purchase agreement between ACT Government and the AFP for policing services in the Australian Capital Territory also warrants further consideration.

Workforce and organisational development

One of the major barriers to the effectiveness of attempts to prosecute licensed premises who had breached provisions relating to the service of alcohol to intoxicated patrons, both as part of the RLLP and other operations in partnership with ORS, was the lack of understanding among ACTP officers regarding their obligations with respect to gathering and providing evidence to ACAT hearings. There was also some confusion, particularly among general duties officers working as part of Beats teams, as to the circumstances in which police could initiate formal action against licensees. While changes to the legislation, particularly as it relates to definitions of intoxication and evidentiary requirements, will help to overcome this issue, it will be important that officers within the new liquor licensing team, and front-line officers likely to have some contact with licensed premises and involvement in ACAT hearings, are made aware of what is required to effectively perform their role. This will need to occur both prior to, and then regularly following, the introduction of the new legislation so as to ensure new officers (as in new recruits and transfers) are familiar with the legislation and role of police. This highlights the importance of an ongoing program of training for officers on matters relating to liquor licensing.

Another issue to emerge over the course of the project was the importance of ensuring that police with responsibility for the development and implementation of strategies targeting licensed premises are familiar with the existing evidence base regarding effective interventions to reduce the problems associated with alcohol and licensed premises. The AIC and ACTP have worked collaboratively for the duration of the current project, both to improve police intelligence around problematic licensed premises and to provide information on effective interventions. Consideration could be given to the AIC continuing to work with ACTP in an advisory role to provide advice on good practice, new and emerging research on policing and the effective management of licensed premises.

Working with licensees, managers and security

This report has identified a number of benefits associated with the partnerships established between ACTP and licensees, bar managers and security staff. These partnerships operate at two levels. First, an established relationship between front-line police and licensed premise operators and security staff allows for the open exchange of information and intelligence, particularly as it relates to offenders or incidents that occur in the vicinity of licensed premises. This can help to assist police in identifying and apprehending perpetrators of alcohol-related crime.

The second component to this partnership is the relationship that has been forged between ACTP Crime Prevention and licensees. There were strong similarities between the approach adopted by ACTP Crime Prevention and liquor accords—a well-established approach to working with licensed premises and other stakeholders. This established partnership can assist in the transfer of information and advice regarding aspects of liquor licensing, the effective design and management of licensed premises and emerging problems relating to alcohol and crime. Regular meetings or workshops involving key stakeholders (including police and licensees) can also provide a forum whereby information on effective strategies or solutions to common problems may be shared.

The AIC recommends that ACTP continue to work closely with licensees and bar staff, taking a proactive approach to providing advice on key aspects of the legislation. 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

There was some suggestion among stakeholders interviewed as part of the evaluation that increasing the availability of alcohol counselling, education and treatment for individuals who come into contact with police for alcohol-related offences may help to reduce reoffending. In particular, there appears to be scope to improve the referral to and availability of these 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 shelters.

In addition, there should be clear linkages with police to enable effective diversion of offenders who commit more minor offences, such as property or disorderly conduct offences, into treatment or counselling. The Early Intervention Pilot Program has also recently been introduced in the Australian Capital Territory as part of the National Binge Drinking Strategy, and provides alcohol education and treatment to persons under the age of 18 years who come into contact with police for liquor-related offences (ACT Health 2010). However, there is currently no equivalent program for offenders over the age of 18 years. The AIC has noted that ACT Health will support the introduction of a National Drug Strategy Diversion Initiative that involves alcohol as part of the ACT Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Strategy 2010–2014 (ACT Health 2010). The potential for the introduction of police diversion into treatment for adult offenders, and the resource and practical implications associated with such an initiative, warrant further consideration.

Developing strategies to reduce the consumption of alcohol

There is a growing acknowledgement of the importance of strategies to address cultural attitudes toward alcohol and the excessive consumption of alcohol, particularly among younger people (Nicholas 2010). These issues have been discussed throughout this report, particularly as they relate to the capacity of ACTP to influence patron drinking behaviour.

The ACTP needs to continue to work in partnership with other agencies by promoting responsible drinking and behaviour, especially among young people, to address attitudes that support the excessive consumption of alcohol. This should include agencies such as ACT Health and representative bodies for licensed premises such as the Australian Hotels Association. While it is beyond the scope of this report to recommend specific strategies, there is a growing body of evidence surrounding effective interventions that attempt to influence the supply of, demand for and harm associated with the consumption of alcohol (eg Alcohol Working Group 2009; NDRI 2007).

Further research and evaluation

The AIC recommends that an evaluation be undertaken into the effectiveness of the Liquor Act 2010 and its enforcement in achieving the objective of harm minimisation. Specifically, this project would examine:

  • the impact of the new legislation and associated reforms in terms of reducing the availability of liquor and reducing the excessive consumption of alcohol;
  • the impact of the new legislation and its enforcement by police and regulatory authorities in terms of improving compliance with licensing regulations and the responsible service of alcohol; and
  • the effectiveness of new legislation in the Australian Capital Territory in reducing the range of harms associated with the excessive consumption of alcohol and improving community safety.

This research could utilise data collected as part of the current project as baseline data, against which future levels of alcohol-related harms could be compared.