Byron Bay police have been reinforced with more than 100 extra officers from around the state, including mounted, dog and riot-squad units, as thousands of tourists descend on the town for the Splendour in the Grass festival, which starts tomorrow.
The three-day event at Belongil Fields has been sold out with 17,000 young revellers attending each day.
Police expect a major increase in alcohol-fuelled crime as per previous Splendour festivals held in the town. The local police station was damaged during the event in 2009 and police fear similar incidents with revellers running out of control.
The town has built a reputation as one of the most violent in the state, with police, nurses and social workers blaming late opening hours at pubs and nightclubs for much of the violence.
Almost every weekend police have to deal with assaults and brawls, and last weekend was no different.
Tweed-Byron police crime manager, Acting Inspector Saul Wiseman, said police had to deal with several alcohol-related assaults and 16 people were caught drink-driving.
One of those was a 46-year-old Byron Bay woman who was charged twice within a few hours early on Saturday morning after she allegedly returned to her vehicle and continued to drive.
At around 1am on Sunday morning, police broke up a street fight in Jonson Street and an 18-year-old Lismore man and 21-year-old Goonellabah man were charged with affray and offensive conduct.
In the early hours of Monday morning, a 23-year-old man was taken to the Byron Bay police station after being found drunk in the front yard of a house in Suffolk Park.
Acting Inspector Wiseman said police ‘do their bit every weekend but the reality is that there are too many people drinking too much; they are not taking responsibility for their actions and they are getting blind drunk’.
‘People should be able to go out and have a good time and not be accosted by drunks.
‘It’s sad, but it’s simple: as long as people continue to drink to excess, emergency services and medical professionals will be left to clean up the mess,’ he said.
His comments echo those of the doctors and the police union which says an earlier lockout as introduced in Newcastle recently would reduce alcohol-fuelled violence substantially.
Byron Bay’s Liquor Accord, after some reluctance, recently agreed to some restrictions and staged lockouts for pubs and nightclubs to help police efforts during the festival weekend.
Police had asked for an earlier than 2am lockout as festival goers and revellers flood the town after midnight. Some hotels will now bar entry from midnight or 1.30am and the clubs will remain open till their usual 2am.
Meanwhile, leading addiction medicine specialists strongly support initiatives to help reduce the violence and other harms of late-night drinking across Australia.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), through the Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine (AChAM), supports calls to reduce alcohol-related violence by reducing the availability of alcohol, especially late at night.
AChAM president, Professor Paul Haber, says alcohol intoxication is one of the leading causes of injury in Australia.
‘We know that in areas where there are many alcohol outlets which stay open for prolonged periods, alcohol-fuelled violence is more common
‘Having a strong police presence and adequate public transport to help people get home might also help, but those measures will not stop people becoming intoxicated in the first place. We have too many outlets for alcohol.’