Alcohol-related violence: let’s talk

Associate Professor Alan Clough will present an overview of this research at Thursday's Science at the Courthouse, to be broadcast live on ABC Far North, 9th June 2011.

Reducing alcohol-related violence

Researchers at James Cook University are studying Cairns as a model for regional centres when it comes to tackling the issue of alcohol-related violence in the late-night entertainment district.

Epidemiologist Alan Clough, a member of the Queensland Tropical Health Alliance, said Cairns had key facilities and programs in place to reduce alcohol-related violence.

"Our aim is to document what is already being done, collect the information available, and investigate what's working, how it's working, and what could be fine-tuned to make Cairns a model for other regional cities," he said.

Associate Professor Clough said assault was the most common of violent crimes.

"Alcohol is a significant factor - half the perpetrators of assaults are intoxicated, as are around 40 per cent of their victims," he said.

"The violence usually involves young adult males. In Cairns they're locals - not strangers - they're usually people this community knows."

Associate Professor Clough said Cairns was well served by agencies addressing alcohol-related violence.

"They have worked together effectively but they need better information about how effective they've been.

The project brings together data from police, licensed venues, emergency departments and CCTV reports.

"Well-informed and collaborative intervention strategies are regarded as best-practice for reducing alcohol-related incidents in late night entertainment areas," Associate Professor Clough said.

The researchers believe Cairns already has strong foundations for a safe city, and hope that by sharing and analysing useful information amongst all the agencies involved they can help make it safer.

"We are learning a lot in this study about the violent incidents that happen and where and when these assaults are most likely to occur," Associate Professor Clough said.  "This kind of information can be used to prevent incidents or reduce their impact.

"Importantly, in Cairns we have something that very few cities have - a network of security surveillance cameras monitored by the Council's CitySafe staff, with radio links to security staff on the ground who can respond quickly. Our research indicates that this system holds a lot of potential for reducing violence."

Stage One of the study was conducted in 2010, when Alan Clough and his team examined the way different agencies in Cairns worked to reduce alcohol-related crime. This phase was funded by the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund.  
 "In the first phase we counted the incidents of person-to-person violence in the late-night entertainment area for the months of April, May and June, 2010," he said.

The researchers collected information from most of the agencies who work with the consequences of alcohol-related violence: police who deal with alcohol-related assault; the Emergency Department at Cairns Base Hospital who treat those presenting with injuries; Cairns Regional Council's CitySafe staff who monitor the inner-city area via closed-circuit television; and the Cairns City Licensees Safety Association who are concerned about any violence on licensed premises.  

In the second phase of the study, now underway, the researchers are again collecting information about person-to-person violence this April, May and June.  

"We are hoping to see fewer incidents in this same period than last year with extra efforts from Cairns agencies," Associate Professor Clough said.   

Phase II has been funded by the Queensland Injury Prevention Council (QIPC) and a $20,000 grant from the Alcohol Education Research Foundation (AERF).

AER Foundation Chief Executive Michael Thorn said programs that worked collaboratively with local agencies and businesses were proving to be highly effective in reducing alcohol-related harms at a local level.
"By involving the owners of pubs, clubs and licensed venues in the process of alcohol management, not only can we can better engage with patrons, we're also more likely to see a lasting positive impact on the community," Mr Thorn said.

The information gathered is being shared with all stakeholders. "We aim to come up with a description of how a range of agencies can work together to make their community a safer place. By documenting both the successes and the challenges in Cairns, we hope to establish a model for other cities," Associate Professor Clough said.

As part of the project, researchers are interviewing key staff in all the local agencies that have alcohol and assault issues as part of their core business.

"We're learning a lot by talking to those people about their views on the usefulness of current strategies, and sharing the analyses with people in other agencies."

Associate Professor Alan Clough has over twenty years experience in research and practice in community-based interventions to address substance misuse problems.

Associate Professor Alan Clough will present an overview of this research at Thursday's Science at the Courthouse, to be broadcast live on ABC Far North.

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