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FactCheck: did the Northbridge WA curfew see a ‘dramatic drop’ in crime?

A curfew was introduced in Northbridge WA as part of a wider push aimed at protecting child welfare and making the suburb safer. kaex0r/flickr, CC BY

FactCheck: did the Northbridge WA curfew see a ‘dramatic drop’ in crime?

WA Labor Premier Geoff Gallop actually put in place a curfew in the Northbridge precinct in 2003 and it has been enforced ever since. The Northbridge example saw a dramatic drop in crime and a reduction in the anti-social behaviour of young people.

– Liberal National Party of Queensland leader Tim Nicholls, quoted in a campaign announcement, November 2, 2017

If elected, Queensland’s Liberal National Party has said it will trial a curfew banning children under the age of 16 from being on some Townsville streets without adult supervision after 10pm.

Announcing the policy, Liberal National Party leader Tim Nicholls said the introduction of a youth curfew in the Western Australian suburb of Northbridge in 2003 had seen a “dramatic drop in crime and a reduction in the anti-social behaviour of young people”.

Is that right?

Checking the source

A spokesperson for Tim Nicholls pointed The Conversation to a 2006 media release from the then-WA Labor premier, Alan Carpenter.

Carpenter had stated that in the three years following its introduction, the curfew had reduced anti-social behaviour among juveniles, and reduced the number of young people apprehended or charged by police.

The statement was based on a policy review conducted by the Office of Crime Prevention. That report is no longer available online, and WA Police and the Liberal National Party were unable to provide a copy.

Verdict

There is no evidence to support Tim Nicholls’ claim that the youth curfew in Northbridge WA “saw a dramatic drop in crime”.

Reported crime in Northbridge actually increased in the four years following the introduction of the curfew in 2003.

Since 2007 there has been a reduction in crime in Northbridge, but this is also true of neighbouring suburbs that have never had a curfew.

Police data and interviews with local stakeholders do indicate a reduction in anti-social behaviour in Northbridge. However, academic research suggests this is due to young people congregating in other suburbs where there is less surveillance.

What was introduced in Northbridge, WA?

In June 2003, the then-WA Labor premier, Geoff Gallop, introduced a “curfew policy” for the Perth suburb of Northbridge. The policy was introduced as part of a broader suite of measures aimed at protecting child welfare and making the inner-city suburb and entertainment precinct safer.

Under the Northbridge curfew as it was introduced in 2003:

  • “pre-teenage” children not under the immediate care of a parent or responsible adult were not allowed on the streets of Northbridge after dark, and
  • a 10pm restriction applied for unsupervised children aged 13 to 15.

Between 2003 and 2011 that curfew was managed by successive Coalition and Labor state government agencies, as a formal collaboration between the WA police (in particular the Juvenile Aid Group), the Department of Child Protection, Mission Australia, and several other agencies.

In 2012, the task was outsourced to Mission Australia.

Whether the exact terms of the original curfew are still in place is less clear. A spokesperson for WA Police told The Conversation there was “no ‘curfew’ as such in place in Northbridge”.

However, the spokesperson confirmed that WA Police, together with Mission Australia, the Department of Child Protection and Family Support and Noongar Outreach Services, do continue to focus on young people on the street at night who may be “deemed in need of care and protection” – particularly in the entertainment precincts of Perth and Northbridge.

Mission Australia WA state director Jo Sadler told The Conversation its case managers engage with young people who have been “picked up by police for being on the street at night”.

There has been debate about the use of the term “curfew” in this situation. But it’s largely a technical debate, and given that most people, including Nicholls, consistently refer to “a curfew”, for the purposes of this FactCheck, we will do the same.

It’s important to note that throughout the years, the curfew has not been solely about getting children and young people off the streets. Community agencies have and continue to assist in ensuring children are reconnected with their families or taken to safe accommodation, and offered support to address the underlying issues that may have led to them being unsupervised at night.

You can read more about the support services offered here.

Was there a ‘dramatic drop in crime’ following the Northbridge curfew?

To test Nicholls’ claim we can look at Western Australian Police Force crime incident data. This includes the number of incidents of robbery (theft from a person), burglary (breaking and entering and stealing), graffiti, assault, and theft of a motor vehicle.

The data show that crime actually increased in Northbridge following the introduction of the curfew in 2003.

In 2002 there were 901 crimes reported across the different categories. This rose to 1,508 in 2007, mainly driven by an increase in assaults and a spike in reported graffiti.

After peaking in 2007, recorded crime decreased again and is now below the levels of 2003. The total for 2016 was 539 crimes.

Those are the raw numbers. But I’ve also examined the monthly counts of crime using an ARIMA analysis – which accounts for seasonality and trends in the data – to give us a better picture.

This analysis also shows no evidence that crime decreased after June 2003, when the curfew was introduced. There is an indication that crime – and in particular robbery – declined significantly in Northbridge six years later, in 2008. (We look at robbery offences specifically because this is an offence that’s likely to occur in a public space.)

A 2011 report from the WA Department of Child Protection also highlighted the decrease in robbery offences between 2007-2008 and 2009-2010.

However, this trend was reflective of a broader reduction in robbery in Western Australia.

The reduction in crime was also evident in nearby areas, including the suburb of Perth (which we’ll refer to as Perth). Similar to Northbridge, Perth experienced high levels of crime in 2004. After experiencing some reprieve in 2005 and 2006, crime in Perth peaked in 2007. As with Northbridge, crime levels dropped steadily after 2007 - despite there being no curfew in Perth.

Crime incident data isn’t perfect. It doesn’t capture all offending. Some minor offences are not recorded by police – instead the individual is given a warning. And some victims don’t report their victimisation.

But the data as it stands does not support claims of a “dramatic drop in crime” in Northbridge following the introduction of the curfew.

Was there a reduction in anti-social behaviour?

Crime Stoppers Western Australia defines “anti-social behaviour” as that which “disturbs, annoys or interferes with someone’s ability to go about their lawful business”. You can read the types of behaviours that meet the definition here.

A 2006 media release from then-WA Labor premier Alan Carpenter said the state government’s Northbridge curfew had “cut the number of unsupervised juveniles roaming the area at night by 35% and reduced the level of anti-social behaviour by juveniles”.

Carpenter claimed there had been a reduction in:

  • the number of young people apprehended or charged by police, and
  • interactions between the WA Police Juvenile Aid Group and unsupervised young people.

Unfortunately, the report cited in the media release is no longer available online. The Conversation requested a copy from WA Police, but a spokesperson said the department couldn’t locate a copy.

However, more up-to-date figures from the WA Police were provided in a detailed 2014 report into the Northbridge Policy Project - of which the curfew was one part.

The report confirmed that the number of young people who came into contact with police in Northbridge was lower after the policy was in place.

The authors of the 2014 report concluded that overall the Northbridge Policy Project had reduced anti-social and nuisance behaviour perpetrated by young people in Northbridge.

The report’s conclusions were based on the police data as well as interviews with stakeholders including policymakers, business operators, and representatives of youth organisations in Northbridge.

Although the report concluded that anti-social behaviour in Northbridge had declined, the authors noted that many of the children and young people were congregating in other nearby areas, particularly the suburb of Burswood – which is a short train ride from Northbridge and where there was less surveillance.

An academic review published in 2017 also reported on the displacement of young people to other suburbs. The authors wrote that the:

… previously documented successes of the curfew for crime protection and child protection had been achieved through displacement of young people to other locations that neither reduced crime nor increase safety.

What’s the bottom line?

There is no evidence that the curfew reduced crime in Northbridge. Recorded crime actually increased in the four years after the curfew was introduced. Crime began to fall consistently after 2007, but similar reductions were seen in neighbouring suburbs that did not have a curfew.

The evidence does indicate a reduction in the number of young people coming into contact with police in Northbridge. However, academic research suggests this is due to the displacement of young people to other suburbs.

It’s difficult to isolate the impact of the curfew from the other aspects of the Northbridge Policy Project or indeed from other strategies that were implemented by the state government and Perth council after 2003. These included the SafeCity Strategy, which involved increased CCTV surveillance, lighting and roaming security officers.

However, Nicholls’ claim that the curfew resulted in “a dramatic drop in crime and a reduction in the anti-social behaviour of young people” is not supported by the available evidence. – Renee Zahnow

Blind review

This FactCheck is a thorough review of the available evidence and its conclusions are sound.

Empirical studies into curfews have been inconclusive, with some suggesting that they have little impact on crime reduction, while others suggest they can have a positive effect in reducing crime.

In the current case, the data would support the conclusion that the Northbridge curfew had little effect on crime. – Terry Goldsworthy


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