Police outside Mooseheads nightclub. Photo: Rohan Thomson
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Authorities must swell the ranks of police officers working in Civic to prevent the ''abhorrent'' drunken assaults that are destroying young lives, the police union says.
Pleas for more police resources in Canberra's busiest nightclub district are backed by an unusually wide range of people, including victims of violence, the police union, bouncers and the ACT opposition.
Police make an arrest. Photo: Rohan Thomson
There are 24 officers attached to the Regional Targeting Team responsible for policing Civic.
That number was increased slightly from 22 recently, when the old City Beats and Alcohol Crime Targeting Team were merged into one team. Police Minister Simon Corbell said the numbers of police in Civic have grown, and said he was ''quite confident'' there had been no loss of capability when the Alcohol Crime Targeting Team, specifically created as part of 2010 reforms, was merged.
Earlier this year, it was revealed police feared their members were being put at risk by the lack of officers working in Civic after dark.
A police health and safety officer issued a formal notice, which warned that the lack of resources was being ignored by the ACT Policing executive.
He said police leadership had been continuously told of the problem for ''at least two years (and as many as five) with no action taken''.
The notice, later leaked to the media, warned staffing levels were so low that members were constantly placed in situations where ''they are regularly outnumbered by intoxicated and aggressive people, placing them at unreasonable risk of serious injury due to violence''.
The officer's fears - expressed before the recent addition of two extra officers - also extended to ordinary revellers.
''The members of the public may well be exposed to a greater level of violence, which is prolonged by an ACT Policing Beats Team that has too few numbers to effectively intervene,'' he said.
''Further they may well be exposed to a greater level of force and/or indignity than is reasonably necessary due to the small numbers of police attending the incident.''
The Australian Federal Police Association, who represent the ACT's police, believe more funding is required for officers to prevent late-night violence in Civic.
AFPA chief executive Dennis Gellatly said adequate resources were needed to prevent the type of tragedies that have led to young men being brain damaged.
He commended the government's efforts in introducing a risk-based liquor licensing system, and said the recent increase in police numbers had helped ease safety concerns slightly.
But he said more needed to be done to ''curb the damage'', and
called for more government funding for officers in Civic.
''The missing factor is personal responsibility and accountability of those who consume excessive amounts of alcohol and intoxicating substances,'' he said. ''Clearly, when it comes to responsibility and maturity around alcohol and drug consumption, both present serious concerns.''
Police data shows the 2010 liquor licensing reforms have failed to have any effect on alcohol-related violence in Civic.
They have, however, correlated with a large downturn in all offences involving alcohol across the entire ACT.
That statistic incorporates non-violent offences such as public urination and drunk and disorderly, and includes crimes committed in suburban areas with only a few licensed venues.
The Australian Hotels Association's ACT branch has called for a sensible, evidence-based approach to the issue, rather than ''headline-grabbing statements''. General manager Brad Watts said the problem is not worsening.
Mr Watts highlighted the downturns in territory-wide figures involving all alcohol-related incidents, a similar position to that taken by the ACT government.
''Local authorities and the ACT government have acknowledged this strong downturn trend and applauded the steady decline in alcohol-related incidents across the city,'' he said.
''Many licensed venues, including late-night establishments in Civic, have played - and will continue to play - a key leadership role in this positive turnaround and they should be applauded for working closely with authorities.''
The calls for more police resources have been echoed by Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson.
Mr Hanson has also reiterated his party's push for tough new laws specifically targeting offenders who assault police in the course of their duties.
''The city needs to be a focus, and police numbers obviously are important,'' Mr Hanson said.