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Breaking the Cycle

Today’s GrogWatch was originally published in Victoria’s Police Life Magazine and was written by Mandi Santic.

Alcohol is a factor in many crimes across Victoria and police are working with the community to reduce the risks of alcohol-related harm.

Excessive alcohol consumption causes the death of three Victorians, contributes to 18 assaults and puts 81 people in hospital every day.

It is also a significant contributor to road trauma, assaults and sexual assaults, family violence, property damage, child abuse and public disorder.

A report released by The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education showed between June 2012 and June 2013 there were 26,444 alcohol-related hospital admissions and 18,078 ambulance attendances. That’s three times more than those for illicit drugs.

It is a major concern for police in Victoria, who are working hard to reduce alcohol-related crime.
In Greater Dandenong, police identified alcohol as a driver of crime with people arrested for excessive alcohol consumption using a large amount of police resources.

Southern Metro Region’s Senior Sergeant Frank Bodor decided to do something about it.
With the help of internal and external stakeholders, he initiated the Southern Metropolitan Region Alcohol Diversion Program.

The program, an Australian-first, is aimed at reducing alcoholism and associated destructive behaviours by providing opportunities for rehabilitation and treatment.

Sen Sgt Bodor said those who had outstanding sheriff’s warrants and drunk-related infringement notices could apply to have the courts consider reducing or removing their fines, if they completed the program.

“One man in particular accumulated $127,000 worth of unpaid alcohol-related fines, and could face jail,” he said.

“If he is suitable to the program and agrees to get proper help through rehabilitation, his debt would be reduced or removed.”

Participants had up to 12 months to complete the program, working with various support agencies which provide services such as transitional housing, counselling, mentoring, alcohol recovery, peer support and natural therapies.

“This is a serious health issue within the community,” Sen Sgt Bodor said.

“We hope the program will reduce the number of presentations at court, decrease the use of police resources and allow alcohol-dependent clients to attend treatment facilities or complete community work.”

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In Melbourne’s inner south-eastern suburbs, including St Kilda and South Melbourne, police are working to reduce alcohol-related harm.

Southern Metro Region’s Local Area Commander Inspector Narelle Beer said she was determined to change people’s perceptions and attitudes to alcohol.

“The City of Port Phillip has experienced more than double the number of alcohol-related assaults than the state average and has the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths across Victoria,” she said.

“Police are making every effort to try and change these statistics. Everyone has the right to be safe and we are serious about educating the community about preventing alcohol-related harm. Youth Resource Officers regularly visit schools and spread the message to young people about their consumption of alcohol and the risks and offences associated with it.

“After one school visit, a principal later reported that for the first time during Schoolies Week, students organised alcohol-free events.”

Insp Beer said police were also actively engaging with licensed premises operators.

“Officers are educating and working with licensees to create policies and find new approaches on how to reduce alcohol-related harm,” she said.

“Training police in the area of liquor licensing has been valuable. We are better able to identify offences and have the knowledge to educate people and gather intelligence for developing trouble areas,” Insp Beer said.
“We have plenty of targeted enforcement operations to address the issue of alcohol-related harm. For example, there was a particular high-risk licensed venue that had reports of underage drunken behaviour and property damage.

“We worked closely with the venue’s management and focused on giving patrons advice about the effects of alcohol and expanding its security, ensuring everyone had their identification checked. These actions had a positive impact on the venue. It built a reputation as a safe place for young women.”

Recently releasing its Policing Alcohol Harm in Victoria 2014-24 statement, Victoria Police has created a long-term vision striving towards a safe, secure and orderly society, free from alcohol-related crime and harm.

Victoria Police Drug and Alcohol Strategy Unit’s manager Chantelle Miller said the strategy recognised the complexity in responding to issues of alcohol-related harm and will improve the public’s understanding of its impacts.

“It will help identify new approaches that are evidence-led to respond to changing the patterns of alcohol consumption and the issues of alcohol misuse,” Ms Miller said.

“Challenging the drinking culture requires partnerships with communities, businesses and the health and community sectors to prevent and intervene in reducing alcohol-related harm.”