Statistics up following greater policing efforts

LATROBE Valley’s most recent crime statistics showing sharp rises in family violence and drug offences reflect greater policing efforts to scale up prosecutions.

That was the response of Latrobe Police Services Inspector Mick West this week when he said local police were “really happy” with what the statistics indicated.

Though the 2011-2012 figures showed a 31.5 per cent jump in crimes against the person and a 47 per cent increase rise in drug offences on the previous year, Insp West attributed the increases to a higher police presence in the valley “than at any time in the past”.

He claimed the work of Latrobe’s new Family Violence Unit had contributed to an almost 50 per cent rise in assault statistics, saying “we like to think nothing is getting through now without being prosecuted and charged”.

The Valley remains arguably the worst hot-spot per head of population, in Victoria, for incidents of family violence but Insp West said the significant additional “work and resources devoted to that particular category of crime” would, in time, see current statistics “trend down”.

“We are prosecuting every little infraction and laying charges… we are not compromising at all and we make no apologies for that,” he told The Express.

Though Insp West said he was concerned local family violence support agencies were being stretched by a jump in referrals, arising from a surge in police charges, he added “we don’t resile from that; we like to think we are getting the trust and confidence of the community and a greater number of women are no longer saying they will tolerate this abuse”.

The “tireless” work of police personnel now dedicated solely to family violence was seeing “outstanding results” and was “well-supported by the courts”, Insp West said,

Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault spokesperson Lisa Cox welcomed the success police were having in prosecuting offenders and said police and agencies were working closely to combat the problem but added “obviously we require more resources at this end”.

She confirmed the agency had seen its waiting lists “blow out” in the past 18 months.

In a region “over-represented” in sexual assault figures, those affected now faced a 17-week wait before they could access ongoing counselling support from GCASA, Ms Cox said.

In response to a State Government announcement this week that it would spend an extra $16 million over four years to expand family violence support services, including

$3.75 million for sexual assault counselling, Ms Cox said “of course we welcome the proposed funding but we are yet to understand how that will be distributed through Victoria”.

The State Government also announced it would allocate a further $9.25 million to family violence counselling and case management and another $3 million for men’s behaviour changes programs to increase places in court-directed programs and pilot new schemes for violent teenagers.

Meanwhile, Insp West said the Valley, under-resourced in policing terms for 18 months prior to the end of 2011, had now “never had this many police in their history”.

Referring to alarming drug-related figures, he said “when it comes to drugs and stolen property we can do a lot more of that proactive work now and that’s what the statistics reflect.”

“It is up around 48 per cent and it will go even higher but it means that we are out there and really policing drugs, which are a big issue in our community,” he said.

“We are actually really happy (with these figures), it is a good new story… thefts of motor vehicles are down 23 per cent and thefts from motor cars down 6.6 per cent… and while property damage has risen 4.9 per cent, we are taking a full-on approach to property crime – if it is part of a family violence incident they are being charged each time”.

Insp West said he was “hopeful and confident” the region’s next quarterly crime statistics would see figures “trending down”.