What is City Safe Mackay?
The City of Mackay in Queensland is a regional town of approximately 80,000 people which serves as a hub for the mining and agricultural industries in North Queensland. While many people live in Mackay and drive out each day to work, the town is also swelled significantly by large numbers of shift workers from the mines who come into Mackay for recreation and refreshment.
The town identified that alcohol consumption and alcohol-related violence were significant issues for the town central business district (CBD), largely focussed around Victoria Street where a number of nightclubs are located within a two-block area. In response, in 2000 Mackay and Whitsunday Regional Council joined the WHO-endorsed Safe Communities Network, an international network of communities committed to safety promotion and healthy communities. In 2004 Mackay and Whitsunday Regional Council was accredited as a safe community, and received re-accreditation in 2010.
The Safe Communities project was led by a project management team and several working groups. The Alcohol and Injury Working Group (Safe Communities) was formed in late 2002, and provided leadership in aiming to reduce alcohol-related violence in the Mackay CBD.
In May 2008 City Safe was established, and took over the coordination of activities aiming to address alcohol-related violence associated with the Mackay CBD nightclub precinct. The City Safe project is an independent project and loosely sits within the umbrella of the Safe Communities initiative; the Regional Council chairs the committee and provides assistance through holding the project’s funds. The Mackay Police is also actively engaged with City Safe, with the Crime Prevention Officer playing a leading facilitation and coordination role.
While not specifically established to address workplace safety for police, health workers or teachers, reducing the levels of alcohol-related violence in the community has clear benefits for the police in their line of duty, and for health workers in the hospital who often respond to the victims of assaults as a result of alcohol-related violence. City Safe has demonstrated many of the strategies for reducing workplace violence, such as the use of CPTED principles, ensuring collaboration between different stakeholders, mobilising the community, and developing strategies to ensure that police and others are safe when responding to violent incidents.
Why was it set up?
On any given Friday or Saturday night, reportedly up to 2000 people will come to Victoria Street to visit the nightclubs and enjoy a night out with friends. In 2007, a community survey identified that public perception of safety in the Mackay CBD was poor; specifically, people considered that the nightclub precinct was unsafe. In the twelve months to November 2007 police statistics showed that assaults in Mackay had risen by 9%.
A specific catalyst was a series of incidents in 2007 in the nightclub precinct involving alcohol-related violence that received negative media coverage in the local paper, and generated a high degree of public concern. As a result of this series of violent incidents, the local state member for Parliament convened a public forum, and also engaged the editor of the Daily Mercury in an attempt to promote positive stories as well as negative ones. City Safe was launched as a response to this community concern, initially chaired by a community member. The chairmanship of the committee now rests with the Regional Council.
At the time, the Alcohol and Injury Working Group was already working on issues related to violence within the CBD, and this work was eventually subsumed into City Safe.
How is it implemented? What are its key activities?
The City Safe Committee meets monthly and includes representatives of:
- Mackay Police
- Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs Unit, Queensland Health
- Queensland Transport
- Mackay Taxis
- local nightclub venue owners
- Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal, one of the large employers in the area
- community members
- Mackay Regional Council
- the Daily Mercury.
Membership of the Committee is open to anyone, and there has been stable attendance from a core group of people for some years. There are no formal terms of reference or requirements for participation, and members bring with them a desire to improve their community and a focus on practical action. Collaboration and a solutions-focus have been key features of the Committee’s approach to reducing alcohol-related violence.
In an immediate response to the public’s concern following the series of incidents in 2007, the police increased their visibility in the precinct, walking the streets and visiting the nightclubs rather than patrolling the area by car. On one occasion, the mayor joined the police for an evening, generating interest in the way police and Council were responding to public safety concerns.
The police also initiated a series of campaigns and educational programs to help people make safe decisions. The first of these, in planning before City Safe itself was launched, was the ‘Walk Away, Cool Down’ campaign, which was originally created for the Far Northern Region to address community-based domestic violence, but which was targeted at the nightclub audience. Wrist bands and other promotional materials (such as stickers and posters) were produced, and a logo accompanied promotional material provided to venues and to other organisations. In-venue media was also used to promote the message of the campaign. A higher visibility of police in the area during the 3-month campaign was also implemented. An evaluation of this campaign demonstrated a 50% reduction of assaults and public nuisance arrests during the period.
Further campaigns included ‘it’s all in your hands’, ‘stop the youth violence’, and the ‘one puch can kill’ campaign which followed an incident in which a man died after receiving one punch.
‘Barlink’ was a liquor industry accord established in 2004 as part of the Safe Communities project, which continues to operate as an independent initiative. This mechanism was used by City Safe to work with venue owners to develop campaign messages and gain support for in-venue media (video imaging, scrolling texts over the bar). In 2009, as part of City Safe the police worked with Barlink members to gain support from venue owners for the introduction of IDEye scanners. These scanners had been demonstrated to be successful elsewhere and were funded by the venues themselves. The system allows venues to photograph everyone who enters the premises, so that there is a record of all people who enter the venue. If a person is later banned from a premises this information will be entered into the system and become available to all other venue owners, who are then able to make an informed decision as to whether they will let that person into their own premises.
Other activities include:
- funding from the Department of Transport for CCTV at the taxi ranks, reportedly a location for fighting
- CPTED principles being considered in landscape and precinct design
- prevention education given in schools and at ‘schoolies’ weeks.
A new initiative, started in December 2012, is the Mackay Street Chaplaincy which is being promoted as a component of City Safe. Volunteer community members will be available on Friday nights on Victoria Street to provide water, assistance, and a calming influence, with a tent for people to come and sit down if they need to withdraw from a situation or talk to someone. The volunteers range from 19 to 86 years of age, with about 10 people on duty each Friday night, and New Year’s Eve. An initial trial of the initiative proved popular, with the first official duties conducted on 7 December 2012.
What are the limitations/areas for improvement?
While violence has been measurably reduced in the nightclub precinct, it has not disappeared but has been dispersed elsewhere, with people frequenting other pubs and venues in different parts of town, or drinking at home.
Measuring trends and changes is difficult, due to the difficulty of ascertaining violence directly related to alcohol consumption within the nightclub precinct. While there has been a measurable decrease in assaults in the precinct, behaviour that takes place elsewhere may still be related to the nightclub precinct, and vice versa.
It has reportedly been a challenge to engage with venue owners and to convince them that it is in their own business interests to operate within a safe and controlled environment. On the other hand, two mining companies, Dalrymple Bay and Xtrata, have been actively involved in supporting City Safe, recognising that their business benefits from ensuring that their workers are safe when off-duty in the city.
While there has been funding support provided by governments and organisations for marketing campaigns, accessing funding is time-consuming and the resources are limited.
CPTED principles have been discussed but are not utilised fully within the precinct, particularly with regards to shrubbery and landscaping which obscures sight-lines.
What are the critical success factors?
A number of critical success factors have been identified by participants. These include:
- early leadership from the local member of the state Parliament; his active engagement with the issue gave the message that ‘community safety is everyone’s responsibility’
- ownership by key organisations, especially the police, and active engagement with volunteers and community groups, as well as several of the major mining companies in the area
- significant police presence in the precinct – walking the beat to reinforce the importance of the message; interacting with people in venues made people feel that police were doing something
- finding the ‘motivator’ for people to become involved – for venue owners, making it a business proposition; for mining companies, workers’ health and safety
- communication – high public visibility with marketing campaigns, holding the initial public forum, keeping people informed through the local newspaper
- using a social marketing approach, and changing the marketing material to keep the message fresh
- taking a multi-faceted prevention approach – social marketing, ID scanners, police presence, education, media
- facilitated by a statutory authority – the police have a recognised and accepted authority
- ensuring there is a consequence for poor behaviour.
- City Safe has re-aligned people’s perceptions of the nightclub precinct; many people feel it is safer than before
- City Safe gives people a focus, ‘something to hang on to’, as a public effort to make Mackay a better place; while the risk of violence continues, ‘we’re pretty proud of the fact that the violence is better than it was’ in the nightclub precinct.
- a 2012 Queensland Government report noted a 70% decrease in violence in the Mackay city centre over 2 years. This is considered a significant achievement of City Safe. However, violence has dispersed as a result, with people drinking and continuing violent behaviour at home, in other pubs, and in other parts of Mackay, and members of the Committee have recognised that there is a need to address alcohol-related violence in other parts of the city than just the nightclub precinct.