Curfew could fuel more nightclub violence

A proposed 1am curfew in areas such as King Street in Melbourne could exacerbate alcohol-fuelled violence outside nightclubs.

by Tony Zalewski

Concerns regarding high levels of alcohol-related violence in and around nightclubs remain in Australia, with media reporting regularly on the issue. A recent proposal by John Elliott, a deputy lord mayoral candidate for Melbourne, to introduce a 1am common closure for Melbourne nightclubs to curb violence and improve a perception of safety by many CBD residents will do little to address the problem. In my view the current problems associated with street violence will be exacerbated.

Since the early 1990s and the development of entertainment precincts such as Melbourne’s King Street, there has been much work done by industry, regulators, local government and the community in addressing local concerns about violence and public safety. As a former police officer and then consultant in the area over the past 20 years I have witnessed firsthand practices that have impacted upon the level of alcohol-related and nightclub violence. There remains much to be done in the management of problematic nightclubs and entertainment precincts, especially where up to 100,000 young patrons frequent popular areas over a Friday or Saturday night. A blanket closing of nightclubs at 1am is not the answer.

Common closure has previously been trialled in Australia with little success. Introduction of a 1am common closure will merely displace the problem; a substantial number of patrons will leave venues and congregate on streets around that time. There will be predictable conflicts and antagonism as patrons move around the area and seek transport arrangements such as taxis.

A common closing time would also continue to stretch over-utilised police and other public resources such as hospitals, who will have to cater for the inevitable consequences of conflict, aggression and violence. A common closure will also produce an increase of violence in and around private residences, isolated public places such as parks, and put at risk overnight food vendors as revellers continue to loiter, drink and socialise.

Research shows most nightclub violence is perpetrated outside venues rather than within them and within the final two hours of trading. It is well accepted that violence outside licensed premises is more difficult to control by security and other staff. However, there are some strategies that have proven successful, including community mobilisation through licensee accords, by which key stakeholders work together to create a safer precinct.

There have been a number of approaches to violence reduction in and around nightclubs throughout Australia. For example, Queensland has introduced a 3am statewide lockout for late-night venues and “drink safe” precincts.

Lockouts prevent venue hopping and reduce violence in many venues. Safe drink precincts include strategies of enhanced police activity, improved transport and traffic control, and formal collaboration between nightclub security and police to address local problems.

New South Wales has introduced mandatory licence conditions for venues that experience significant levels of violence. They are subject to a mandatory 2am lockout, imposition of additional security measures, and a 10-minute “time out” on service of alcohol every hour of trade. From January 1 2012, additional “three strikes and you’re out” legislation was introduced. These measures have been reported to impact upon the level of local violence.

Within Victoria, the Melbourne Licensee’s Forum and Geelong Licensee’s Accord have achieved some success in reducing violence across venues and within the entertainment precincts but most of the success has come in curbing internal incidents rather than the level of street violence. It must be recognised that participation in accords is optional and hence not all venues choose to participate in incident-reduction strategies.

Worksafe Victoria has also addressed work-related violence by introducing a Guide to Crowd Control. Again, this publication tends to minimise risks associated with security work within rather than alcohol-related incidents in adjacent streets.

There have been a number of innovative approaches by venues aimed at addressing street violence. These include collaborations between venues where problem patrons are refused entry to all venues in a precinct, external monitoring of streets by security staff and CCTV systems based upon data analysis of problem areas, traffic controls to prevent drive-by incidents outside a venue, and formalised strategies between police and venues.

It should be noted that within the regulatory framework external activity by venues is limited as it relates to public space. This means regulators are unable to fully mandate risk minimisation strategies by venues in adjacent public areas. But through accords and the like, venues will possibly continue to address concerns within the parameters of their control. Of course, a community education program must continue about alcohol-related violence and its impact across the broader community.

To overcome problems associated with violence in and around nightclubs, policy-makers need to understand the subtleties associated with venue operations and therefore the various influences on precinct activity.

The absence of an integrated violence prevention system that incorporates all key stakeholders means this problem will merely continue. A 1am common closing time for Melbourne nightclubs will only exacerbate the level of street violence currently experienced.

Tony Zalewski is a PhD student in the Criminal Justice Consortium at Monash University. His thesis, which is currently under examination, investigated the association between levels of violence and nightclub systems of security.

This article originally appeared in The National Times.