Neighbourhood Watch

19th October 2016 

Matters of Interest 

 The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS (16:02): I rise today to speak about the Neighbourhood Watch groups across South Australia and the impact that the SAPOL organisational reform, which is currently being implemented, will have on them. 

Neighbourhood Watch was first established in South Australia at Flinders Park in 1985 and quickly spread across many areas of the state. Some members may remember that in country areas of South Australia they were originally known as Rural Watch. Neighbourhood Watch groups were originally established based on ABS collector districts which equated to approximately 600 homes. Over time they have been amalgamated and now some groups encompass as many as 2,000 homes. This has resulted in a loss of community identity as groups were coerced into merging in areas such as Aberfoyle Park and Happy Valley, Evandale. Maylands and Stepney and Hope Valley and Highbury. These mergers have been done at the behest of SAPOL upper management over the years. 

There is no induction or training about community policing whereby local police officers engage in and with the local community in police basic training at Fort Largs and beyond. The Minister for Police has publicly declared that he is reinvigorating Neighbourhood Watch; however, the new district policing model which is being implemented by SAPOL provides little insight into what impact it will have on community programs such as Neighbourhood Watch. 

It will, however, see the six local service areas (or LSAs) amalgamated into three huge policing districts. This will, in my opinion, have the effect of moving police further out of and away from the community. I fear this will result in an increase in unreported crimes. While this may lower the government’s crime statistics, the numbers will be false: crime will go unreported and therefore unchallenged. 

Western Australia abandoned the district policing model because it did not meet community needs. The new model proposed by the police commissioner, in my opinion, is not about operational efficiencies: it is about budget cuts from the state government. I remind honourable members of an email I received from a police officer in relation to a role in a local community group some months ago which said: 

Due to the SAPOL organisational restructure, I am reluctant to put up my hand for a committee position, as my role is safe until maybe next week/maybe next month/maybe next year. I therefore feel I would not be able to give the position the attention it deserves, as the role I will be forced to/made to go into will not allow me the flexibility to attend any meetings. 

If this is a sign of things to come from the SAPOL operational reform, it is a sad time for community groups across South Australia. I commend Neighbourhood Watch, Blue Light, Duke of Edinburgh, suicide prevention groups and many other community groups that police officers have readily engaged with as part of their working life and also in their private activities, irrespective of whether they are officially described by SAPOL as being a SAPOL corporate program. 

In addition, I commend all the SAPOL officers who have supported and wish to continue their support for a wide range of community groups. On 6 September this year, in a radio interview on 891, Superintendent Bob Fauser, who is the officer in charge of the SAPOL reform project, indicated that it was basically up to individual police officers to choose to engage in the types of programs that I have described here. The minister said in this place on 20 September: 

Of course, police officers in their own time are more than able to take up whatever causes they see fit, and many do. Many police officers go above and beyond their specific call of duty in their own time, but others are able to do it through the course of ordinary events, where it is appropriate to do so. 

Those two comments from Superintendent Bob Fauser and the minister are most concerning to me and to many police officers and the community around them in terms of their future in supporting those groups.