How To: Protect your community

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Stick with me here.

This is a big blog.

It contains a lot of content and relevant information regarding public safety and your rights.

It talks to the pain in the community and discusses how we can help others.

It also contains MY ONE TOP TIP for community safety. Read on to find out (Action 4 if you want to skip ahead).


“I’d often find two or three people shooting up at the bottom of the stairs,” says one anonymous resident. “My partner was even physically threatened by these people on occasion.”

“He was stealing mail and got into a fight with a passer-by at 2 am, waking up the street!”

Sadly, it is becoming all too common. Loud noises, large groups, sharp needles on the ground. Families scared to exit their homes at night, or even being abused during the day when they go shopping. Unable to sleep due to being woken in the early hours.

The issue of people taking illegal substances continues to increase. The abuse and antisocial behaviours around our streets do, too. This is a whole of society problem. Be they homeless, down on their luck, or wilfully choosing to partake in illicit activities, their acts cause damage, costs money and puts people’s safety and wellbeing at risk.

There is a question here of people’s rights. One argument is that some of these people are left by the system and others should have some sympathy. Meanwhile frustrated landlords are forking out thousands of dollars in repair and clean-up costs and families get the brunt of the verbal abuse as they go about their daily lives. It can be hard to cope.

So, where does one draw the line?

The Issue

The issue is clear – people partaking in illicit substances and antisocial behaviours are committing a criminal offence. In a lot of cases, they are consuming these items or causing a nuisance on private property that isn’t theirs and that is another offence.

While it is true that there may be some very good reasons that some of these people have ended up in these situations and cannot access decent support services, the same is true that it doesn’t mean they can now impact someone else’s rights and safety.

Everyone has a right to feel safe and to have unrestricted access to their property. If someone enters the premises without lawful excuse, then they are trespassing. Regardless of their circumstances, their situation does not override the landlords or tenant’s lawful occupancy, nor does it allow them to break the law.

The question here is where the rights of one outweigh the other, and it has a simple answer. The use of drugs or illicit substances is illegal. Trespassing and abusing people is illegal.

In a public place away from the general public, where it can be safely avoided, people should avoid this and simply report the matter to the Council or Police.

However, there are several remedies available where this behaviour is next to or impacts the use and enjoyment of private property, or, is on private property itself.

Do businesses and even households plan their security?

Relevant Legislation

  • CRIMES ACT 1958 [VIC]
  • SUMMARY OFFENCES ACT 1966 [VIC]
  • DRUGS, POISONS AND CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES ACT 1981 [VIC]
  • OWNERS CORPORATIONS ACT 2006 [VIC]

Choices

Freedom in our society, although constrained by laws, allows us to live in such a way that we can be our own people and make our own choices. Some people will make good choices, others poor choices, and everyone swings in between these.

Sometimes someone will make a choice that impacts someone else, and that means the other person didn’t have a choice in the matter. This is where a lot of laws come in – to help balance the choices we all make so they are fairer and less likely to impact others.

Let’s be clear – it is a choice to take illicit substances, just as it is not to. It is a choice to do something about poor behaviour as it is to ignore it. It is a choice to choose low-fat milk or skim. People may be in a certain social situation or another, but they have choices as to how their behaviour will impact others.

Why is it so hard for the Council or Police to act?

The reality is that the general offences the Council and Police will observe are the low-level aftermath of the activity. For example, many items of drug paraphernalia are not illegal to have or are easily justified (e.g. medical condition). Or, by the time Police arrive the persons have already left, and this ties up resources.

Someone who is trespassing on a property is a lower priority job for Police who must juggle emergency response as well as community engagement, and, often these summary offences are over by the time they arrive. Councils are only able to enforce certain bylaws and legislation but must do so from a more ‘political’ standpoint which can prevent them from taking certain actions.

The court system is busy and clunky, and therefore will try to minimise the number of low-level crimes it has to deal with, often by handing out fines, severe warnings or community orders.

Unless there is an immediate threat to life or property, you may find a slower response than you would expect.

What about my rights to do something?

There is provision for a lawful occupier to remove a trespasser from their premises, or for a citizen to arrest another without a warrant for committing any offence. However, these actions heavily increase the risk to you in both injury and legal prosecution. It is important that you fully understand your rights and responsibilities in taking such actions.

There does seem to be a consensus that only the Council or Police can take actions which is not true – there are laws that allow you to protect yourself and the wider community. It is strongly suggested to read up on the legislation mentioned above or hold a community training session to discuss these legal matters.

Your safety must be number one.

Identifying Behaviour

There are many signs that illicit behaviour is taking place in and around your property, and can include:

  • Numerous people coming and going from a particular property or area day and night.
  • Loud noises, disruptive behaviour, yelling, fights, on-going parties, etc.
  • People loitering around an area.
  • Cars or other vehicles coming for a short period before leaving again regularly.
  • Drug paraphernalia left around the area (includes uncapped needles, used cotton buds, glass pipes, soft drink bottles cut to allow smoking of drugs, etc).
    • You should not handle drug paraphernalia as it could be dangerous. Take photos for your further action and call your local Council to collect. If it is on private property you can either engage a private cleaner to do so or if you must, ensure you wear protective equipment for your hands, arms and eyes.
  • Empty alcohol containers.
  • Visible signs of urination or faeces.
  • Criminal damage to lights, cameras, sensors or other security-related items.
  • Some houses with blocked out windows or unkept yards blocking the view.

Have a conversation with your Owners Corporation, Business Association or neighbours. Have they also witnessed such behaviour? They may have noticed things you haven’t, and vice versa.

What other social conditions may be at play here?

  • Proximity to chemists or illegal drug suppliers?
  • Proximity to safe injecting rooms or safe havens?
  • Social housing estates?
  • Current economic conditions?

Working together you will be able to identify patterns of behaviour that may be linked to illicit activity. This will form the basis of your response to the issue.

You will want to work together to record as much detail as possible, safely. Rather than approaching people, you need to gather evidence of the issue. This is important as it will help the Council and Police to establish timelines, peak activity times and provide lines of enquiry. For example:

  • Take note of the date, time and location of suspicious activity.
  • Note down descriptions of possible offenders in the anti-social behaviour you see.
  • Note down registration numbers of vehicles coming and going from the area.

You will need to record your reasons as to why you felt the person or vehicle was suspicious. Remember you are doing this to establish some facts, so, you should not put yourself in harm’s way to collect this information, as no offence may have taken place yet.

Taking Action

It is important to remember that any action you take must be safe, lawful and sustained for a period to be effective. It is not usually enough to do this as a once-off – a deterrent will see a return of the behaviour after a while.

Please remember that you are dealing with people – people who have a wide variety of situations and reasons for their behaviour and should be treated as such. It is also a timely reminder that people are unpredictable and therefore require a variety of approaches.

Now.

I know you will be thinking about COST.

Well, you’re going to have to calculate it because while there are plenty of options that are free or low cost, an on-going solution is going to need a combination of treatments and this will have an associated cost. But if an association or community comes together and agrees to act, then the cost can be split evenly.

Action 1 – Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)

CPTED is a standard form of security measures used when designing and constructing, or altering, a building or place. Even if you have an established premise it is not too late to investigate the components of CPTED and implement some.

CPTED looks to reduce the opportunities within an environment for anti-social behaviour or crime to take place. The principles of CPTED are:

Credit: Bob Landstrom
  1. Natural surveillance
    1. Providing clear sightlines
    1. Avoiding blind corners
    1. Visible entry and exit points
    1. Effective security controls and products such as fences, grilles, doors that allow observation but can be operated from inside to escape in an emergency
    1. Lighting that reduces glare or dark shadows
    1. Landscaping that reduces the opportunity to hide or entrap people
  2. Access control
    1. Clear entry and exit points and identification of private property
    1. Vegetation and design to deter intruders
    1. Access control to deter intruders (restricting and vetting access)
    1. Clear signage regarding entry, exit, private premises, etc.
  3. Territorial reinforcement
    1. Distinct boundaries between public and private areas
    1. Allows for ownership of these spaces by those who reside or work there
    1. Reduces the chance of illegitimate entry, or, clearly shows a person has breached a private space
  4. Space management and Maintenance
    1. Showing a ‘cared for’ image – areas are in good repair
    1. Issues rectified quickly such as broken lights, damaged fences, removal of graffiti, etc.
    1. Use of materials that reduce vandalism

In action:

  • Lighting should be directed towards access and egress routes to illuminate people on approach, rather than towards buildings reducing observation.
  • Lighting should be encased or made tough to break.
  • Motion sensing lights in between lit areas work well to deter unauthorised access. You can get these from your Hardware store.
  • Motion detectors that make sound can be used on driveways, walkways and entrances/exits to alert others in the area of movement.
  • Fencing should maximise natural surveillance from the street to the building. If they can see you then you should be able to see them.
  • Fencing should be clear, reducing areas in and around it for people to hide.
  • Car parks should be secured where possible, have constant lighting and clear signage.
  • Put up ‘no trespasser’, ‘private property’, ‘CCTV in use’ and other deterrent signage. You can find similar signs at your Hardware or Safety store.
  • Install mirrors to help people see around corners, check blind spots, etc.
  • If blind spots or places of ‘entrapment’ cannot be adequately fixed they should be locked after dark.
  • Avoid placing seating in areas where people can loiter such as near entry points, car parks, ATMs, etc.
  • Low hedges, shrubs, creepers and ground cover plants are better for natural surveillance and aesthetics.
  • Creepers and wall-hugging vegetation can be used effectively to stop graffiti.
  • Implement electronic access control, CCTV and visitor logs.

Action 2 – Community Action

It is important that as a community we come together to address these issues. Every step taken to reduce antisocial behaviour is a step in the right direction.

Community action can include:

  1. Owners and Business Associations
    1. These associations are entities in their own right
    2. They can deploy a range of measures like any other business or citizen
    3. Options include security patrols, community outreach programs, etc.
  2. Neighbourhood Watch
    1. A Neighbourhood Watch group is effective at promoting observation and communication
    2. Establishing a Neighbourhood Watch should be done in consultation with key community stakeholders, the Council and Police, and look to train its members on observing and reporting issues
    3. A connected Neighbourhood Watch group over technology can allow for fast flow information and updates everyone instantly as to a situation. This means more people are aware and can take appropriate action
    4. Advertise that a Neighbourhood Watch is active in the community
    5. Consider what other safe options you have, for example, working together in community parks or holding street BBQs to show presence and deter the behaviour
  3. Safe Meetings
    1. Get together with your community and meet with the Council and Police
    2. Invite local Members of Parliament
    3. Consider all issues and all treatments
  4. Property Owners
    1. Implement security precautions
    2. Repair damage
    3. Use a Real Estate Agent to help with managing tenants, inspections, etc
  5. Community Patrols
    1. As a community, a little goes a long way
    2. A small amount of coin from many residents could fund a community patrol that can observe and report behaviour as it happens to Police
    3. This funding could also deploy a security patrol in your area dedicated to responding to issues. More on this option below

In action:

  • If it is just your house impacted, take personal safety measures and upgrade your security. Report your concerns. Consider community groups.
  • If it is a business, block or neighbourhood, get your Owners Corporation or Business Association involved. They are usually obligated to assist with safety for their members.
  • Set up a WhatsApp for your street or community group to discuss safety concerns.
  • Get in touch with the Police Assistance Line on 131 444 or submit an online report.
  • Use Crime Stoppers to report anonymously.
  • Set up or attend community meetings or consider a local Neighbourhood Watch.

Action 3 – Security Patrols

Using a well-presented security company can help in proactive patrols and reacting to security and panic alarms. A professional security firm can be engaged to provide:

  • Static Security Officers
  • Mobile Patrols of premises
  • Alarm responses

Security considerations include:

  • Install intercoms and electronic access into common buildings and areas
    • At home, use strong door locks and remove keys from near windows
  • Security patrols can be conducted at random times to monitor the area
  • A Security Officer can be deployed to patrol the premises and control access
  • Install a monitored security alarm with back to base monitoring
  • Employ a patrol response when away on holiday

In action:

  • If your house has been a target or you are concerned, get a monitored security alarm with a panic button and security response.
  • Business Associations or Owners Corporations should consider expensing for random mobile patrols during peak trouble times to help observe, report and deter unwanted behaviours in and around their properties.
  • Take steps to implement CPTED (as above) to help security and emergency services.

Action 4 – Community Security Team (my Top Tip!)

By far one of the most proactive ways to promote safety, deter crime and inject a sense of pride back into a local community is to deploy a Community Security Team. I make the distinction of ‘Security’ instead of ‘Safety’ because the idea of this team is to be proactive in locating trouble spots and taking action to prevent the behaviour in the first place.

This is my top tip because it works!

While on the surface it seems ‘extreme’, there are plenty of valid reasons as to why this works:

  • A Business Association, Owners Corporation or other ‘community organisation’ pays a reputable security firm to conduct proactive patrols and responses in their areas of concern.
  • This commercial relationship creates a contract of service which must be met.
  • The cost of this is shared amongst a group, meaning the actual price is cheaper per person paying.
    • This allows the team to be well funded.
  • The team is highly visible and can provide almost immediate response as it is dedicated to the area.
  • The team can act faster than the Council or Police, as they are already in the area and can observe illegal activity and act with knowledge of the law.
  • As it is a commercial agreement, the body organising it can set guidelines on a uniform, outreach, etc. which means it is tailored to the goals of the organisation implementing it.

While there will always be considerations such as safety and legal action, the reality is that many places hire private security to protect their life and property, and a firm who is properly funded can provide highly skilled specialists who can both interact and take action as required.

This would need to be a two-pronged approach:

  1. Firstly, the team would drive education and engagement between locals and potential troublemakers or persons of interest.
  2. Take action to deter criminal behaviour, including citizen’s arrest where required, utilising insurance, equipment and training afforded to them under the relevant legislation which already exists.

There are several examples worldwide of how effective this can be. How many housing estates are you aware of that have a dedicated security patrol? How many corporate businesses have security patrol their premises?

Rather than a simple ‘observe and report’, it is possible to provide security teams that can proactively manage antisocial behaviour.

Does this create a private Police force?

Not entirely. The fact is that these groups already exist, and the law provides these powers to every citizen. However, not every citizen is authorised to carry handcuffs, wear body armour or understands their legal duty when affecting an arrest, where this team would. This should also not be the first option of the team either – community engagement at all levels, providing alternatives and assistance is by far the preferred option.

For example in Victoria, I refer to the Sanctuary Lakes suburb that employs a 24hr security patrol and alarm response in their community, the CSG (Community Security Group) which is a volunteer organisation operating in many suburbs of Melbourne and internationally, or even further afar to Perth where the City of Sterling Council has its own in house security response capability. You should also research the UK’s ‘My Local Bobby’ service that provides private security to streets, suburbs and communities to strengthen immediate responses to crime, helping to increase safety and Police attendance.

These groups or businesses would have to:

  • Be engaged on a commercial basis (even if volunteer)
  • Provide proof of insurance, security registration and sound business planning
  • Train their team in both welfare services and security response
  • Provide proper equipment to certified personnel (e.g. use of handcuffs)
  • Aid their locality (escorts, walking people to cars, alarm response, etc.)
  • Providing outreach assistance to those who need it most
  • Retrieve sharps or other paraphernalia that present a safety hazard
  • Other tasks as deemed appropriate between the parties

I encourage communities, councils and lawmakers to investigate these community teams and their impacts. If done correctly it supports the rights of private property occupiers, the safety of the community and provides outreach to those who want it. It also delivers another set of eyes against crime and helps local Council and Police target their actions, and community groups monitor areas to aid the less fortunate.

This option does cost money; however, it can be split amongst a community or organisation and therefore everyone who contributes a little receives a lot.

And the best thing of all about this option?

You can tailor it to be what you want it to be. You’re paying, after all.

In action:

  • An association, organisation or group can look to engage a private contractor or volunteer group.
  • You should use a consultant to first guide you in establishing the framework and key metrics.
  • Local engagement with the Council and Police will still be required.
  • Agree to what extent you want the team to operate (patrol only, arrest, etc.).
  • Set up a service contract and be involved in working with the team to implement.
  • Ensure adequate funding. Look into grants, sponsorship, etc.
CCTV Fixed Camera

Some final key points

  • You DO have rights to protect yourself and your property. You should always act safely and only where you know and understand your obligations.
  • CCTV Cameras do not stop offences. They record it as it happens to be used as evidence.
  • Understand that the Council and Police operate in a highly controlled and complex environment. What seems ‘simple’ to us may be complex and challenging in a legal context, or, be considered less of a priority to them based on other tasks they are dealing with.
  • In all approaches, compassion and assistance is to be afforded to the offending party, but only as far as is safe and reasonable.
  • Do not discredit your options because of popular opinion. Research and understand the legalities of your options.

Summary

If only there was a magic bullet that could solve these issues.

Well, maybe there is, but using bullets in this context isn’t entirely legal!

Rather, it is up to us as a community to draw the line in the sand.

To say, “enough is enough”.

And to do something about it.

We do have options. Quite powerful and useful ones too.

It’ll cost a bit of money.

But, how much do you place on your family’s safety?

On your community’s success?

On the offender’s own welfare?

Assistance

Please contact me if you need assistance with community safety and security. My business is designed to support you and your communities to be safer and more enjoyable.

I can provide community-based training, assist with establishing a community response or provide advice regarding security and risk.


I'd love to hear your thoughts, and it could inspire someone else too!