Assaults have declined in Kings Cross, but few feel safe

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The City of Sydney’s manager of business and safety, Suzie Matthews, says interventions to stop alcohol-related violence are working, although it is difficult to establish which ones.

There are growing calls for more action to be taken against Kings Cross drunks and licensed venues after another young man was punched in the nightclub district on New Year’s Eve.

Shaun McNeil, a 25-year-old labourer, has been charged with causing grievous bodily harm to 18-year-old Daniel Christie, who remains in critical care at St Vincent’s hospital. Police allege the “king hit” took place around 9pm on Victoria Street in the Cross.

Since July, conditions on licensed premises have been tightened, more CCTV cameras have been installed and the City has deployed a cleaning crew between 11pm and 5am on Friday and Saturday nights to improve the facade of the area.

In a wide-ranging interview, Ms Matthews said the interventions were “starting to have some effect” although much work remains to be done.

“Those sorts of measures, I think, over time will make change, but whether we can conclusively say they’ve driven down the assault figures – no one’s done the work yet,” she said.

A string of cases, including the death of 18-year-old Thomas Kelly in 2012 and the New Year’s assault on Mr Christie, has focused attention on alcohol-related assaults and misbehaviour.

But police statistics indicate that such assaults are in decline. Figures from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research supplied to the state government reveal a steady decline in on-premise assaults, alcohol-related assaults on police and all alcohol-related assaults.

From 2007 to 2012, non-domestic alcohol-related assaults declined 28 per cent to 14,041 from 18,855. Attendance rates at hospital emergency departments for “acute alcohol problems” also declined over the period.

“High-profile incidents notwithstanding, violence and alcohol-related violence has been trending down,” Ms Matthews said. “Of all the crime categories, though, it’s the hardest to turn down.”

Doug Grand, CEO of the Kings Cross Licensing Accord, said that Kings Cross has “copped the brunt” of media attention around alcohol-fuelled violence, and that foot traffic in the area has dropped dramatically.

He told City News assaults had already dropped by 37 per cent in Kings Cross prior to the Thomas Kelly incident, and has declined a further 33 per cent since.

“Our stance on that was always that whether it’s Kings Cross or George Street or Byron Bay, the focus has to be on violence itself,” he said. Venues can take action on their premises but have little remit once patrons are outside.

“The problem for all the premises is they can’t control what happens on the street,” Mr Grand said.

“It’s like a school playground or a major event like the football – if you take your eyes off these kids for five minutes, you’ve got a problem.”

He said there needed to be a tougher approach from the courts and police, so that potential offenders know they will face jail time.

“If you’re gonna throw a punch, you need to know that there’s going to be a response from the authorities.”

Mr Grand also backed calls for a study into the role of substances other than alcohol, saying they put young men at a greater risk of perpetrating violence.

Liberal MP Matt Kean recently advocated an ankle-bracelet for all violent offenders who offend while under the influence, requiring them to have zero blood alcohol concentration for at least 20 years.

On Wednesday afternoon the federal government announced it will conduct a parliamentary inquiry into alcohol-fuelled violence around the country.