DEBATE flared last week over the Latrobe Valley’s soaring crime rates, with new data showing big jumps in drug offences and family violence rates.
While police and State Government sources said the figures at least partly reflected an increase in policing capacity in the region, the state opposition linked the “alarming” statistics with education, public service and infrastructure funding cuts.
Victoria Police data for the Latrobe Police Service Area showed there had been an 18.4 per cent increase in ‘crimes against the person’, per 100,000 population, from 31 March 2012 until 31 March 2013.
Latrobe has the state’s highest rates of these crimes, more commonly referred to as family violence incidences, with figures much higher than those recorded in more heavily populated regions, including Geelong.
From 1 April 2012 until 31 March 2013 Latrobe recorded 2691 crimes against the person per 100,000 population.
Data for ‘raw offences’ showed 80 more drug offences were also recorded in Latrobe over the past year, bringing the total to 583, a 22 per cent increase.
Residential burglaries increased by 7.2 per cent to 494 offences while ‘other burglaries’ jumped to 355, another increase of almost 22 per cent.
Overall in Latrobe total crime increased by 13.6 per cent.
The figures triggered accusations from State Opposition Member for Eastern Region Matt Viney that the State Government’s “key election promise of getting tough on crime” had failed.
Conversely, State Member for Morwell Russell Northe said Latrobe Valley had never been better policed, with an additional 64 officers funded in the region and a greater capacity for police to “focus their attention on these crimes”, leading to an inevitable increase in crime rates.
His views were supported by Acting Inspector Latrobe PSA Dave Watson who said “we are definitely better resourced now than at anytime in the past”, adding “right now we have no vacancies in Latrobe”.
He said Latrobe was also expecting “additional police within the near future”.
While Actg Insp Watson said extra police on the beat did not account for the “entirety” of Latrobe’s rising crime rates, “in the last 12 to 18 months we have certainly had more members available to perform operations against drugs, for example”.
Since its inception over 12 months ago Latrobe’s new Family Violence Unit had also seen an increase in charges laid for ‘crimes against the person’, Actg Insp Watson said.
He said the unit’s work was aimed at “providing a quality response” to family violence in Latrobe and he hoped by “making it topical and making it known this won’t be tolerated” there would be an eventual levelling off of those crime rates.
A jump in drug offences could be partially attributed to “having more members available to perform operations” and running special duties from Morwell and Moe “where members can execute more drug warrants,” Actg Insp Watson said.
He added, however, “we can’t say the increases are totally because of extra policing”.
Mr Viney maintained research showed the state of the economy, employment statistics and education opportunities impacted on crime rates.
He referred to comments by New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research director Dr Don Weatherburn who said “the best crime prevention tool in the long run is… a strong and vibrant economy”.
Data which indicated crime rate increases were “absolutely predictable” when government’s cut education and social supports, Mr Viney added.
Mr Northe said Victoria Police had the lowest police ratios in Australia under the former State Labor Government and, while consistent high crime rates were reflective of other problems, “we stand proud of our strong commitment to reinforce police numbers”.
He said recent feedback from other local community service providers, suggesting increased funding was starting to impact on outcomes across Gippsland, also “vindicated some of the investment our government has made into those welfare agencies” tasked with tackling wider issues.