Sunday, May 30, 2021

What to do about alcohol-related assaults in entertainment districts?

North Queensland, Australia, features some amazing scenery
- and some troubled entertainment districts

by Tarah Hodgkinson

For years we have shown the power of locally created solutions to solve entrenched crime problems, even when those problems do not have an obvious explanation. This is especially the case when neighbourhoods have the benefit of targeted research and prevention programs to use in their safety planning. This is the essence of the SafeGrowth planning method.  

I spent some time a few weeks ago in Northern Queensland facilitating a conversation with local stakeholders, community agencies and police to address an increase in assaults, particularly alcohol-fuelled assaults. There didn’t seem to be an obvious explanation (increases in tourism, etc) as to why. 

City of McKay, Northern Queensland and the Pioneer River
- photo Creative Commons license

The first reality in understanding such problems is that any change in crime rates in the past year must be considered in light of the impact of COVID-19 on crime. Many of those impacts show up in our blogs such as de-policing in Denver, social distancing in Victoria, and exceptional event theories.

More often than not, police-reported incidents declined dramatically during the initial lockdown period and most have returned to pre-pandemic levels. However, this is subject to how officials implement lockdowns and the kind of restrictions they put in place. In the case of assaults in Northern Queensland, this increase was a part of a ten-year trend.  

In recent years, different states across Australia have implemented some significant policy and legislation changes to address night-time assaults in entertainment districts. These include “lockout laws” in certain districts called Safe Night Precincts. In these locations, they reduce alcohol serving time by two hours and ban the sale of takeaway alcohol after 10:00pm and the sale of shots after midnight.  

Risk-based licensing includes rules of behaviour

Some precincts have introduced Risk-Based Licensing (RBL) which requires establishments to pay licensing fees that reflect the venue’s propensity to create harm. This is intended to encourage venues to improve safe service practices and reduce violence on their premises. 

As complaints emerged about the loss of income, legislators rolled back many of these approaches in favour of ID-scanners to ensure underage patrons were unable to enter these precincts. 


Over and above the loss of income to these areas, strategies produced mixed results in terms of crime. Recent studies of the lockout laws indicate that they have yet to show a decline in alcohol-related assault. 

Furthermore, they may create displacement to precincts that don’t have these requirements. In addition, some studies have found that these legislative changes also result in patrons arriving at the precinct more intoxicated and later in the evening, impacting the level of control the venue has for reducing harm. Unfortunately, RBL’s have yet to demonstrate a decline in alcohol-related harm. 

So then, what works? 

Facilitated meeting in Northern Australian community. As in our
SafeGrowth work, collaboration and community engagement is vital

Unsurprisingly, research suggests that multi-stakeholder strategies are most effective in reducing alcohol-related assaults. This includes coalition building to bring together volunteers and leaders across the community. They have produced some impressive results, including:

  • improved training for individuals who serve alcohol including conflict resolution training, 
  • developing local policies that make sense to the local context, 
  • improving venue design – including ventilation and lighting, 
  • supporting alternative, non-alcoholic nighttime activities, and 
  • increasing roadside checks. 

This strategy – Community Trials to Reduce High-Risk Drinking (RHRD) – shows success in multiple sites in reducing alcohol-related assaults, sexual assaults and motor vehicle crashes. 

Rather than simply implementing broad sweeping legislation, the success of RHRD is a result of clearly identifying the problem and developing a local solution with all necessary stakeholders. This is unsurprising considering the success we see with SafeGrowth strategies in neighbourhoods around the world. 

When local leaders come together, discuss the problem, identify a solution and work collaboratively to implement that solution, we see amazing results. Based on these successes, community leaders in parts of Northern Queensland are starting the same process across the region. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

How to build a youth-friendly city for a post-COVID world

Throughout the pandemic, children craved outdoor activities

by Mateja Mihinjac

A year ago, at the surge of the COVID pandemic in Europe, we wrote about the importance of staying socially connected at times of "social distancing" and about building personal resilience during this global traumatic event, especially that of children and youth. 

During lockdowns, some children and youth sought social connection with their peers despite the imposed restrictions. Others expressed their dissatisfaction by demonstrating against school closures, damaging public property and public messaging through graffiti tagging. Yet others isolated themselves from others and confined themselves to their four walls. 


A year into the pandemic, I have been following with sadness the news about the growing numbers of mental health issues in youth and children due to the pandemic and major disruptions to their lives during lockdowns and restrictions to their daily routines.

Many young people turned to tagging to vent their frustrations

In France, mental health hospitalizations of youth under 15 have gone up 80% during the pandemic. In NYC suicidal children spend days waiting to be hospitalized.

In Slovenia, for the first time ever, the demand for hospital beds reserved for children and youth requiring mental health care has exceeded the capacity and now the hospital only admits children who are suicidal.

These are not isolated stories. The effects of these stressors endure and lead to neuropsychiatric challenges in adulthood as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Yet, while many adults and parents may be struggling to gain some sense of normalcy themselves, we all need to support our children and youth with the smooth transition to the lives outside of their four walls and computer screens.

What can be done?

Some children require slow and gradual adjustments to
socializing before casting them into a sea of people


Humans dislike sudden changes to their routines and, while very adaptable, children struggle from sudden alterations to their routines more than adults. 

To help children and youth, psychologists Phillips and Ehrenreich-May suggest that home and school need to permit slow adjustment to more active and interactive lives. For children who may require more handholding during this transition, they suggest open conversations, more patience, and help with scheduling the new routines of young people. 

Others emphasise school and home settings and, in the spirit of SafeGrowth, I believe we should include local neighbourhoods and neighbourhood organisations where children and youth spend most of their time. Here are some simple tips:

  • Perhaps the staff and volunteers from community organisations and services could learn some basic psychological skills for interacting with children and youth, which would make the transition smoother and less traumatic? 
  • Perhaps we could offer additional activities to support children to socialise freely in safe and controlled public spaces (instead of vilifying their gathering as loitering or anti-social behaviour). 
  • Perhaps we should pay more attention to reaching out to hard-to-reach youth whose participation in public life is limited. They too need to learn socialization skills as COVID restrictions fade.

Even if we can’t do everything, we can all do something! It takes a village to raise a child. Why not make our villages more children and youth-friendly, especially during these difficult times? Why not use all our neighbourhood resources and organizations to help them build their personal resilience? 

This is our vision for a youth-friendly SafeGrowth city in the post-COVID times.