Apr 10, 2017

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Police and security guards take control of new taxi rank to make streets safer in Newtown

David Barwell, Kimberley Caines and Jillian McKee, Inner West Courier Inner City

POLICE and security guards have started patrolling a new taxi rank in Newtown in a bid to curb assault rates and reduce traffic chaos from late-night revellers hailing cabs along King St.

Three security guards have been employed to oversee the safety of patrons and taxi drivers at the cab rank (outside the Commonwealth Bank) near Whateley Lane.

Working from 10pm to 5am on Friday and Saturdays, the patrolled rank with seven taxi spots is an initiative of City of Sydney’s Late Night Transport Working Group and Newtown LAC.

Newtown police duty officer Acting Inspector Christine McDonald said the launch of the taxi rank was quiet, possibly due to people not being aware of it.

“We had three dedicated police officers for the taxi rank and they could have drawn on other officers if required but it was very quiet,” Act-Insp McDonald said.

Newtown Neighbourhood Centre chief executive Liz Yeo said the patrols were one of the ideas identified to keep King St “weird, vibrant and safe”.

“While there’s been a lot of positive feedback coming from the community meetings there are still concerns over late-night levels of harassment,” she said.

“We’re still pushing for late-night public transport options but having that added security is a really good outcome.”

The measures come as weekend visitation numbers in Newtown continue to soar fuelled by revellers ditching the CBD lockout zones for King St.

Newtown state Greens MP Jenny Leong has supported the move, saying problems were occurring when people were rejected from venues.

“What we know is that one thing worse than a drunken idiot on the street is a drunken idiot who can’t get a taxi home,” she said.

Assaults down, but not everyone swallows the stats

Latest crime figures show Newtown has missed out on the brunt of violence displaced by the infamous lockout laws — but some argue the statistics tell a different story.

While assaults rose more than 20 per cent in places such as Bondi and Coogee, statistics released by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research last week showed assaults had decreased in Newtown.

Prior to the lockout laws in 2013, Newtown recorded 161 assaults; this rose to 178 in 2014 but then fell to pre-lockout levels of just 163.

Newtown crime manager Detective Inspector Damian Goodfellow said that while many venues had seen patronage double or triple, crime had not followed.

“Although there has been a dramatic increase of foot traffic in the Newtown CBD, there has been a disproportionately low increase in crime,” he said.

But one prominent venue manager, who did not wish to be named, told the Courier she had become hesitant to call police post-lockout.

“It’s much more of a big deal these days to call the police to your venue, because in the back of your mind you’re becoming part of a statistic which can be used to destroy the industry you work in,” she said.

“These days, if someone threw a glass at me and I had security there who could keep the situation under control, I would second- guess if I really needed police there.”

But the manager said she often called police for other concerns with regard to harassment and failure to leave the premises.

This was evident in the crime figures, with liquor-related offences in Newtown up more than 32 per cent since the controversial laws were introduced.

Newtown Liquor Accord president Richard Adamson said while there may be “some hesitancy”, he believed police and venues had a good communication.

“I would encourage venues to be open with police around incidents and similarly encourage police and government not to enforce punitive measures on good operators because of isolated incidents.”

Originally published in The Daily Telegraph