Saturday, 19 March 2011

Wauchope is a pleasant place, with friendly people. They say hello, and wave at you on the street, even though they are strangers. The churches have lots of fellowship and friendship groups. People leave their cars and houses unlocked up here. They trust in the friendliness and integrity of the place. The NRMA gave us a hefty car insurance refund for moving here. It seems that the risk of theft is much less in Wauchope.

The headline in the Wauchope Gazette came as a surprise then. Apparently Wauchope is engulfed in a crime wave, and people are afraid. A crime prevention meeting has been organised for Wauchope, for next Wednesday. The aim of the meeting is to increase community knowledge of actual crime in the Wauchope area. Over a number of sessions, residents will learn how to identify and report crime, learn about crime trends in the Port-Macquarie Hastings local government area, and be given information about crime reports over the last 12 months.

There is only one solution to this criminal activity, says the Gazette, based on a reader poll they recently took. It is to man the police station at Wauchope for the full 24 hours each day, for 7 days a week. The readers apparently rated the idea of increased police patrols, or extended daylight presence at the station much lower. Only police presence for the full 168 hours per week would stem the tidal wave of crime.

Sadly, the Local Area Commander of Police has said this is unlikely to happen. The only chance Wauchope has of achieving its police presence aim, says the Gazette, is the looming State election. The other suggestion made in the paper is that people need to report crime. If not enough crime is reported, then police are allocated accordingly less.

Mmmmm. We have conflicting scenarios here. Waucope is a safe place, and people don't lock their doors or cars. But Wauchope is also a hotbed of criminal activity and we need police here all the time. Puzzled yet?

The Gazette asked each of the local candidates to state their position.

The National candidate (who is the sitting member) referred to the over-resourcing of police in Labor seats in Sydney, and was confident that the excess number would be removed and could be sent to the mid north coast under a Coalition government, resulting in more police on Wauchope's streets.

The Independent candidate called for a reform of the whole justice system, the removal of red tape, and new legislation so offenders would not get off lightly.

The Greens candidate was extremely concerned about the general loss of numbers in the police force because of the stress of the job, and felt they deserved better pay. He felt more support staff could be offered to police to help out with paper work and admin duties. He pointed out that Wauchope was much better off than many country areas (Police are present in the Wauchope 'cluster' for 16 hours a day, every day). He also noted that preventative action, such as programs to curb alcohol related violence, should have increased funding as these programs were shown to reduce crime.

At this point I decided to look up crime in this area, on the government NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research website. This local government area is well below the national average for nearly all crime. Looks like the NRMA and the the unlocked house people are right.

I can't help wondering if the law and order concerns of the cities have drifted north, probably due to the imminent State election. Are people's fears being unnecessarily increased so that the candidate offering the simplest and most obvious solution will be the most popular on polling day? I question the ethics of such political manourvering, if indeed this is what this is. Rather than getting residents all het up about a problem that really isn't a great problem, why not get them engaged on issues that really matter?

I think many of our politicians use their positions to pander to the underlying fear and insecurity present in all of us. Elect me, they cry, and I will fix it. Mostly they do not. Yet they flame the fires of controversy and debate on issues beyond their ability to solve, and bring out fear, racism, and scepticism in people in a way that can fracture community and blind ordinary folk to the true realities of the situation.

Time to grow up, pollies. Stop pandering to the lowest commmon fear in the community and use your positions of relative power for good, not evil.

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