By Kathryn Loader
Knox City Council is now armed with hundreds of insights from community members on ways to build a safer community, thanks to a forum held in early May at Hyatt Place.
Joining in the community discussion were representatives from police, secondary schools, social support and emergency relief services, community organisations, neighbourhood watch groups, traders groups as well as local council and state government.
Participants heard an overview of local crime statistics. They also had an opportunity to share their experiences of crime, their perceptions of safety and to suggest safety initiatives.
The forum was funded as part of the Victorian Government’s Building Safer Communities program, which has provided Knox City Council with a $700,000 Empowering Communities grant for community-led crime prevention initiatives.
Cr Susan Laukens welcomed participants on the day. ‘Safety and security are important issues for Knox residents and this is reflected in the council’s vision and plans,’ she said.
‘A key focus of the council is ensuring Knox is a place to call home, where our community is strong, healthy and we support and respect each other.’
Ms Laukens said the ideas collected from the forum would be extremely important in directing the efforts of the program, alongside local crime data. As a community-led project, the funding will be allocated on the issues the community identifies as the most important for improving safety and reducing crime in Knox. The crime data presented showed the numbers of actual offences committed in Knox during 2021, as well as residents’ perceptions of safety.
There was a 19% reduction in crime in Knox during 2021 and overall Knox is a safe place to live. Theft and property damage was the highest represented crime by type. Family violence was the next most common offence, followed by crimes to persons, such as assaults, breaches of family violence orders, then drug use and possession.
Crime was more common in people’s homes than on the streets. There were more family violence crimes reported in Knox in 2021 than the previous year.
The forum heard that mental health was a key factor behind crimes in Knox, with Knox police recording a correlation, involvement or direct cause relationship with mental health issues in up to 60% of incidents. As many as one in six adults in Knox are socially isolated.
The data showed crime rates tended to be higher in areas of disadvantage. It showed one in seven people in Knox were living in a low-income household and homelessness had increased significantly (46%) in Knox since 2011.
There was a focus on addressing the root causes of crime, including drugs and alcohol and mental health issues, as well as promoting equality and respectful relationships. There were strong themes around identifying solutions that improved collaboration, helped people overcome isolation and increased tolerance and understanding.
Several speakers mentioned the impact of Covid-19, including Natalie Hutchins, State Minister for Corrections, Crime Prevention and Youth Justice and Victim Support. ‘I don’t think we can talk about crime prevention and a way forward to tackle the root causes of crime without acknowledging that we have experienced a serious pandemic,’ she said.
‘We know that isolation has become a real issue and with isolation comes mental health challenges, as well as new or exacerbated drug and alcohol addictions. One of the root causes of crime that we know of is addiction. Undiagnosed mental health problems is another one, insecure housing is another and we cannot underestimate how much family violence contributes.’
She said the lessons, insights and feedback from the forum would form the basis for the crime prevention work in Knox, backed by government funding, to tackle the root causes of crime.
A Community Action Group has been established. They will take initiatives that address the drivers of crime and allocate resources from the Empowering Communities grant.
For more information, to be involved, have your say or be kept informed of the program contact firstname.lastname@example.org