On July 14, 2014, Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart took the unusual step of briefing the Newman Government cabinet on the fall of crime in Queensland, more than six weeks ahead of the annual announcement in September. It was also in the lead up to the Stafford by-election and just prior to Queensland budget estimates hearings. It gave the government an opportunity to talk up its crime success and avoid answering questions on other issues.
“Crime in Queensland is down, depending on location, depending on category of offence, between 15 and 30 percent and this is not happening anywhere else in Australia,” he said.
On @612Brisbane, Stewart concurred but would not put an exact figure on the drop. He told listeners of the distinction between “reported crime”, that which the public reports to police, and “other offences”, operations that police instigate on their own.
“The crime that affects the public the most, that’s reported crime, that has gone down dramatically as a result of the support the government has given us with new laws, the extra police that are on the street, the types of strategies we’re using with task force and hub policing,” he said.
“Less reports of crime are coming in because the crimes aren’t occurring and so reported crime is absolutely down.”
As the Queensland public are reporting less crime, “other offences” or police detected crime has risen due to a stronger police presence.
“The police department is working harder and that’s because the government supported us with all those extra police and they’ve supported us with the strategies what we’ve used in the legislation.”
As media attention began to scrutinise these huge falls, Premier Newman began to rein in his rate claim to a rounded 10pc.
However, in a @RadioNational special, Vice President of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties Terry O’Gorman warned of a similarity in the crime reporting structure to that of the Joh Bjelke-Petersen Government in which the police commissioner released figures in the lead up to elections to the benefit of the government.
“It’s in the lead up to the Stafford by-election and the police commissioner ought full well know that police commissioners do not release nor do they initiate nor respond to discussion about crime statistics in the lead up to either by-elections or full state elections,” he said.
“He ought to remember the controversy that occurred during the Fitzgerald era where Fitzgerald in his report made particular findings that during the 70s and 80s police used to regularly release crime statistics that were wrong in order to support the government of the day.”
O’Gorman was also highly critical of members of the executive police force commenting in support of specific pieces of Newman Government legislation such as the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act designed to deal with criminal motorcycle gangs.
“They seem to be falling over themselves almost weekly to call press conferences to say how great the anti-bikie laws are. It’s not for the police to start praising particular pieces of legislation. It’s for the police to independently enforce and bring people to court under laws that are passed by parliament.”
In response to these concerns, Police Commissioner Stewart described this as an “interesting view”. He assured listeners that the relationship between the Newman Government and the police would never descend to such a corrupt level.
“The levels of accountability since Fitzgerald have ensured that we never see that type of relationship ever emerge,” he said.
“I know that there is a healthy gap between us and the government of the day. We work for the government of the day as does every other government department. That’s our job.”
As ABC’s Matt Wordsworth discovered, when combining “reported offences” and “other offences” the overall drop in crime turned out to be 2.1pc, well short of the numbers Newman was claiming. In an interview with criminologist Professor Kerry Carrington, separation of “reported crime” from “other offences” was “cherry-picking”.
“You cannot say that [crime is down] if you look at a criminal justice database [of] reported offences. You have to look at the whole database,” she said.
Overall, it appears to be a good result for the police service but very badly over-egged by the Newman Government. The crime statistics are updated frequently online at police.qld.gov.au but an official status update is due for release in September.