Residents say alcohol is easily accessible despite the banned drinker register (BDR). (ABC News: Jano Gibson)
Public drunkenness and violence in Katherine has spiked dramatically since police withdrew a permanent presence at the town’s bottle shops, with residents reporting “brawling and blueing” on the streets.
- Admissions to the Katherine sobering-up shelter increased by more than 100 people per month in under a year
- Figures coincide with a 31 per cent increase in alcohol-related assaults in the town
- Residents fear the Banned Drinker Register (BDR) is doing little to curb violence without a police presence at bottle shops
Figures obtained by the ABC show in the past 12 months, admissions to Katherine’s sobering-up shelter rose by 505 per cent.
In September 2017, there were just 20 admissions. By July 2018, that figure had grown to 80, and in August this year, there were 121 admissions.
The latest police crime statistics for Katherine directly coincided with the introduction of the BDR on September 1, 2017.
The BDR was designed to prevent people involved in a range of offences — including drink-driving, committing alcohol-related domestic violence and being taken into protective custody for intoxication — from purchasing takeaway alcohol.
However, there was a 31-per-cent increase in alcohol-related assaults in the town between September 1, 2017 and August 31, 2018 versus the previous year.
Katherine Mayor Fay Miller attributed the sharp rise in drunkenness and violence to a withdrawal of police at bottle shops — a policy known as “point-of-sale intervention”.
“There were some times in the last three to four years that Katherine sobering-up shelter had nobody in it,” she said.
“So that’s why I’m very passionate about this point-of-sale intervention.”
Katherine residents told the ABC police had only maintained a sporadic presence at bottle shops this year.
They had all but disappeared from bottle shops in recent months, they said, before suddenly returning in recent weeks.
“It had deteriorated unbelievably to the point where it was time to ramp up my absolute staunch support for point-of-sale [intervention] again,” Ms Miller said.
‘Half the main street was brawling’
Ms Miller said the point-of-sale intervention was effective because customers were required to provide an address for where they were going to consume the alcohol.
“We are a declared dry town, which is quite laughable, but we are, so if they had nowhere to drink it, they weren’t able to purchase it,” she said.
“Is it the answer to everything? No. But it is the answer for Katherine in terms of anti-social behaviour.”
Ms Miller is part of a chorus of locals who want to see police permanently reinstated in bottle shops.
According to business owners trading on the main street, drunken violence is normal.
“We went through a stage up until a couple of months ago when there was very seldom any police in the bottle shops, and that’s when things really started to escalate and get out of hand,” local businessman Geoff Newton said.
“There wouldn’t be a day go past when we don’t have people out the front of the shop drunk and abusive and carrying on, and then every couple of weeks there will be a big blow-up.
“Three or four weeks ago half the main street was brawling and blueing and carrying-on.”
Lana Reid, who runs a cake shop on the main street, said she personally witnessed outbreaks of drunken violence two to three times a week.
“We had an incident last week that stopped the traffic for a little while,” she said.
“People were driving around it — there was no care factor.”
Alcohol prioritised over food
The ABC spoke to a number of itinerant drinkers in Katherine, none of whom were comfortable providing their name.
However, they said the banned drinker register had not affected their ability to purchase liquor.
Itinerant drinkers say the initiatives have not affected their ability to purchase liquor (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
Instead, they said a police presence at bottle shops was the only measure that effectively limited their supply of alcohol, and the higher prices simply meant alcohol was often prioritised over food.
NT police did not answer specific questions about their presence at bottle shops.
In a statement, a spokeswoman said police were preparing for Police Auxiliary Liquor Inspectors to increase their coverage.