By Eva Garnes
On a Friday night in December, CBD News joined Victoria Police as they patrolled the streets of the CBD.
Every weekend the force’s Safe Streets initiative adds to the safety of those out enjoying themselves and, after witnessing what happens on the streets after dark, I can verify that the police have their hands full.
After the sun sets on Melbourne, the CBD takes on a very different vibe than during the day. With a bustling nightlife enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, programs such as the Safe Streets initiative are an integral part of the strategy to keep the streets of Melbourne safe.
In the days leading up to the ride-along I felt my nerves creeping up on me. Having been out in the CBD on several occasions since I arrived in Melbourne, I had never taken the time to actually take in what happened outside my group of friends. As I arrived at Melbourne West Police Station on the chosen evening in December, I had no idea what to expect.
I was to learn all about a comprehensive video surveillance system that protects the city.
The night usually starts off with a thorough briefing by the senior sergeant, who on this night was Dino Corda.
“Our aim is to provide immediate assistance to the public as they need it, as well as giving the patrols a better overview of the situation at hand, ” he told us.
This assistance is partly achieved with the 64 surveillance cameras that are positioned across the grid providing a 24/7 real-time footage of the events unfolding. These cameras are operated by the City of Melbourne’s Safe City initiative, which works closely with Victoria Police.
After the briefing, Sen-Sgt Corda and his team made their way to the command centre for the night. Here all the camera feeds are viewed and any incidents are relayed to the officers on the ground.
“The offences we see the most are what can be categorised as ‘street offences’, where people are waiting in the street and start fighting. In addition to this, there can also be issues with licensing and so forth,” Sen-Sgt Corda replied when I asked him about the most common incidents.
After spending some time inside the command centre, I was assigned a patrol car to take me out on the street. This night Sgt Lee Coulthard-Clarke and First Constable Ashley Voumard would be taking me out into the middle of the CBD.
Although I had already spent several hours with different police officers, the prospect of actually being outside rattled my nerves once again.
When I again asked the question about the most common offences, Sgt Coulthard-Clarke agreed with Sen-Sgt Corda on the nature of most of the offences and added that: “Most incidents in the night time come over the weekends as there are more people out at night. This also goes for public holidays and when special events are being held in or around the CBD.”
“There are also a relatively large amount of incidents relating to disputes on taxi fares,” First Constable Voumard said.
After receiving this answer, it seems to me that Melbourne tends to have the same late-night problems as any other equivalent-sized city.
As we pulled out from the station, a call came through about a random assault and the officers headed to the scene. Once we arrived the situation had already calmed down and they jumped out to get everyone’s statement.
“It is better to get the statements done straight away when the memories are fresh and, if that is not possible, for example if they have been drinking, it is necessary to get them to run through the incident with you and arrange for a statement to be taken later on,” First Constable Voumard said.
“It can be quite difficult to deal with these situations as many of those involved are often intoxicated, and feelings are heightened.
Often they want to see us take action straight away, but if there is no immediate threat we need to make sure of what actually happened before we decide a course of action,” she added.
Although it makes their job more difficult dealing with intoxicated people, there is also a constant element of surprise to these shifts.
“You can never predict how the night will go. It can suddenly turn in any direction,” Sgt Coulthard-Clarke explained as we pulled back into the station.
Perhaps what troubled me most after the night was the fact that you can mind your own business and still be attacked, as the random attack highlighted. Luckily the attack “failed”, and the victim walked away with minor scratches.
I was also left with a greater respect for the officers patrolling our streets, after having seen an intoxicated witness turn their shock and anger on a police officer because the attacker, who at the time sat calmly on the side of the road, was not cuffed and dragged away the second the police arrived on scene.
After spending a night with the police, I feel safer knowing that there are more police officers present during the weekends.
However, after hearing the different calls coming through on the radio over the night, I will make sure to keep better tabs on my surroundings during any nights out in the CBD.