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Crime Rates in Canberra

Jodi Morrell

Have We Been Too Safe For Too Long?

On 28 February, Tara Costigan, a 28 year old mother of three was allegedly killed by her former partner in Calwell. Police classified the crime as family violence, as Ms Costigan’s partner forced his way into her house and used an axe to kill her, inflict grievous bodily harm on a second woman and seriously assault a man in the same attack.

On 10 March, Neal Keith Wilkinson was allegedly murdered in Wanniassa. He suffered significant blunt force trauma at the hands of the son of his de facto partner in a second incident classified as family violence.

On 17 March, Sabah Al-Mdwali, a young mother-of-two was found dead with stab wounds in a house in Gordon. She was allegedly murdered by her husband.

ACT Police were forced this year to open three homicide investigations in the space of three weeks after these tragic incidents occurred. These alleged murders were not linked to each other and are instead a tragic and unusual spike in this kind of crime in Canberra. But the high profile nature of three homicides in three weeks, combined with the publicity surrounding a number of sexual assaults on women around the university campuses in Canberra in March and media reporting of a number of aggravated burglaries has given rise to questions of safety in Canberra.

Have we been too safe for too long here in Canberra? Are crime rates rising in our city? Not according to Acting Commander Justine Gough, who said the city has seen a six-year downward trend in terms of crime statistics.

“In the last 12 months there has been a 25% decrease in sexual assault and a 10.8% decrease in robberies. Canberra is a very safe city relative to other Australian capitals,” she said.

Statistics on the ACT Policing website confirm Ms Gough’s statement that crime rates are quite low and are decreasing throughout Canberra. The statistical portal contains information going back five years which can be broken down quarterly, by offence type and by suburb.

1 January – 31 March 2013 1 January – 31 March 2014 1 January – 31 March 2015
Homicide  2  2  3
Sexual Assault 104 74 61
Burglary, theft & robbery 3,030 2,886 2,775
Assault 580 502 445

ACT Policing’s newest quarterly crime statistics – released this morning – reveal a 4.3 per cent drop in crime reports across Canberra over the previous 12 months, with Gungahlin displaying the largest reduction.

The March quarter 2015 statistics reveal that total reports of crime were down 7.1 per cent across the ACT when compared with the same quarter last year (excluding statistics for traffic infringement notices and collisions).

For March quarter 2015, Gungahlin saw the most dramatic reduction (down 22.2 per cent), followed by Woden (down 18.9 per cent), Belconnen (down 12.4 per cent), the Inner South (down 11.8 per cent), the Inner North (down 2.0 per cent) and Tuggeranong (down 0.8 per cent) when compared with the same quarter last year (excluding statistics for traffic infringement notices and collisions)

Only two districts saw an increase; Weston Creek (up 36.7 per cent) and Molonglo. The Molonglo District saw an increase of 18 reports over the quarter and reports will likely continue to increase as the area populates.

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Officer in Charge of ACT Policing’s Ministerial Policy and Performance Station Sergeant Jason Kennedy said the statistics continued a downward trend and was good news for Canberra.

“While crime reports will always ebb and flow, it’s encouraging to see that overall crime has been trending down for the past six years. While we’ve seen an increase in Weston Creek and Molonglo this quarter, it is not out of the ordinary due to large population growth in those areas. Overall, crime reports across the ACT are resisting the effects of population growth and staying low. These results support Canberra’s reputation as one of Australia’s safest cities,” Station Sergeant Kennedy said.

Crime types which saw the greatest decline for March quarter 2015 included Sexual Assault (down 23.8 per cent), Robbery (down 21.7 per cent), Other offences against a person (down 20.8 per cent), and Assault (down 12.6 per cent). Reports of Motor Vehicle Theft saw an increase of 25.5 per cent and reports of Property Damage increased by 2.0 per cent.

ACT Police are very aware of the disparity between the perception of crime rates by the Canberra community and the reality that crime is decreasing. “Family violence reported incidents and homicide reported indicates are the types of things the public pick up on and are quite violent, gruesome details. I think that’s probably a little of what’s behind the concern that exists.” Ms Gough said.

While the murder rate in Canberra is stable from year to year according to the statistics, to have three alleged murders occur in three weeks all close geographical proximity to each other is naturally alarming and elevates the level of concern in the community. ACT Policing are using a number of tools to try to change this perception, including their website and a strong social media presence, which has allowed them to identify offenders, seek witnesses, recover stolen property, provide real time traffic updates and communicate details about upcoming events and campaigns.

“Our use of social media has been very effective, particularly when asking for information from members of the community with regard to the identification of offenders, witness coming forward and intelligence being provided to us. It provides that instantaneous ability to get things out very quickly.” Ms Gough said.

This proactive and transparent approach to the use of social media has had significant benefits for ACT Policing. Information from the public about incidents goes directly to investigating officers, and the process of obtaining the information is accelerated. This timely sharing of information with the police means they are able to act more quickly to identify witnesses and locate and detain perpetrators. For example, on 1 April, ACT Policing used Facebook to share photos from CCTV of three men whom they believed could assist with inquiries into an assault at a Canberra nightclub, asking followers to help identify the men. The post reached over 40,000 people and within half an hour, one of the men pictured contacted police to identify himself and assist with police enquiries.

But using social media to circulate information about incidents does have its drawbacks. “One robbery that’s reported multiple times on multiple forums…probably elevates the level of anxiety about thought that the situation is a lot worse than it is,” Ms Gough said, and that may go some way to explaining the perception that Canberra is experiencing some form of crime wave. Perhaps it’s not the behaviour that’s changing – it’s our awareness of it.

How do you feel? Do you think that Canberra is less safe than it was five or 10 years ago?

IF YOU NEED HELP

If a crime is occurring or police assistance is required, call ACT Policing on 131 444 rather than attempting to make contact via social media. The 131 444 number is monitored on a 24/7 basis so police can provide immediate assistance.

In an emergency situation, call 000 for help from police or emergency services.

If you have information about a crime, don’t hesitate to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000. Crime Stoppers ACT is a community volunteer organisation which works in close partnership with ACT Policing to help prevent and solve crime in the Canberra community.

ACT Policing can be followed on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ACTPolicing and are on Twitter at twitter.com/actpolicing. Their YouTube channel is www.youtube.com/user/ACTPolicing.

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Jodi Morrell

Jodi Morrell recently abandoned her long-term public service career to pursue her passion for writing full time. She is passionate about politics, federal and local, and loves to explore and understand opposing political standpoints. Jodi loves travel, good food and wine, fitness and obstacle races (the muddier the better) and books. More about the Author

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