Calls to install security cameras in Byron Bay’s CBD have been stepped up this week as late-night alcohol-fuelled assaults in and around the town’s main street become an almost regular occurrence.
Last week, a Dutch tourist had his throat slashed as he tried to intervene in an assault in Jonson Street in the early hours of the morning and two other tourists were assaulted.
Police say it’s ‘time to do something about it’ and ‘stop tippy-toeing around the problem’.
They say Byron Bay is the fourth-worst area for alcohol-related violence in NSW, with a startling 130-plus assaults in Jonson Street alone over a nine-month period last year.
And if you’re out and about in Byron Bay between 11pm and 3am, you have a far greater chance of being assaulted by someone affected by alcohol than in anywhere else in the state, according to police.
Byron Shire Council has come under fire from the business community for not backing the installation of closed-circuit television cameras (CCTVs) but mayor Jan Barham says it’s not council’s role to manage licensed premises and that business and police should install and monitor the cameras.
Byron United head Paul Waters and Ballina MP Don Page agree ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay for the cameras, but say council could apply for state and federal funding for them and should take the next step to achieve it.
Mr Page told media this morning, ‘the council themselves have to resolve that they want to put it in’.
‘The last time this was debated… about three years ago now, the mayor of Byron Shire was actually not supportive of CCTV.’
Mr Waters, who runs a licensed restaurant in the heart of town, says licensed premises shouldn’t be blamed for the violence as many of the perpetrators are youth from other towns who get drunk beforehand and ‘go hunting for trouble’.
Tweed-Byron police commander Inspector Stuart Wilkins agrees it’s not just licensed premises but ‘all the community is responsible’. He agreed that many youths who caused trouble came from different towns such as Ballina and Lismore and did not go into licensed premises.
Inspector Wilkins said that only last Saturday night, a group of young men started a fight outside a nightclub after they were refused entry because they were intoxicated. He said the men had already been drinking at home before going to the nightclub.
Inspector Wilkins says police are fed up with the frequency and severity of the alcohol-fuelled violence in the town, especially in the early hours of the morning and weekends and the problem was only getting worse.
He told media it had become an almost daily occurrence, and only the other day two people were arrested at 2.30am over a bashing in Jonson Street.
But he agreed that some licensed premises could become more responsible and some were ‘worse than others and cause us more heartache in terms of licensing compliance’.
Cr Barham said it was not fair that the wider community should subsidise CCTVs as much of the violence stemmed from licensed premises, but she said council was concerned about the growing violence in the street late at night.
She said the availability of and access to alcohol was one of the main contributors to street violence and this had to be addressed first before spending money on cameras.
‘I’ve seen it myself and know it’s a real problem, especially after midnight with alcohol-fuelled violence and the number of people on the street and the aggression that’s there.’
She said Council unanimously supported limiting licensed premises through the ‘Last Drinks’ campaign, with a lockout after 1am in a bid to control drunkenness and violence and ‘support police, ambulance and the hospital, which are all affected by it’.
Mr Waters said CCTV cameras ‘won’t cost ratepayers anything’ and urged council to pursue government funding for them.
‘We are also part of the community,’ he said.
Inspector Wilkins said security or ‘street safety’ cameras worked well in other areas in the Northern Rivers and were a ‘great’ help as a crime-prevention strategy .
‘But we can’t be everywhere at the same time,’ he said.
Mr Waters said Byron Bay had 56 licensed premises involved in the town’s liquor accord and they were ‘doing everything we possibly can’, but that it was a wider community problem.
He suggested CCTVs should be installed in trouble hot spots such as Jonson Street and Railway Park and for extra lighting and police to organise portable police beat units or foot patrols.
‘Railway Park is an ideal place for such a police-beat unit; in Surfers Paradise they have a permanent police-beat office or cubicle and that seems to work well,’ he said.
‘A lot of this doesn’t have to be long term, just enough to break the nexus of gangs from other places coming to town looking for trouble,’ he said.
Mr Waters said business owners were willing to work with council to have CCTV installed and council should apply for funding rather than ‘continually rejecting it’.
But Inspector Wilkins said four police officers regularly inspected licensed premises and surrounding areas.
‘But we can’t be everywhere at the same time; if cameras were in place we could respond to it.’
He said all stakeholders needed to sit down and look at valid strategies to deal with the problem and how to fund it, as funds were available from the state for crime-prevention strategy.
The issue of violence in Byron Bay hit national headlines seven years ago when TV fishing and football celebrity and former policeman Rex Hunt and his son were injured when they claimed to have been assaulted by a gang of teenagers in the main street.