by Christopher Allan, Journalist, Council magazine

The Northern Beaches Council last year launched its Community Safety Plan (2021-2026) – a five-year strategy to help the community realise a collective vision of a safe, inclusive, and connected community in the Northern Beaches region. The strategy is critically grounded by 18 months of consultation with residents and stakeholders, with key outputs including ten priority areas for action on community safety, supported by the latest demography and crime data. Here, we break down the significance of the Plan as a model for other local governments to adopt in their own community safety efforts.

Last September, Northern Beaches Council signalled a long-term commitment to community safety by endorsing the Community Safety Plan, a five-year roadmap to both maintain and elevate a high standard of community safety for all Northern Beaches residents.

Critical to the development of the Northern Beaches Council Community Safety Plan (2021-2026) was an extensive campaign of community consultation: over a period of 18 months, the Council consulted with residents and key stakeholders through stakeholder focus groups as well as telephone and online surveys.

As acknowledged in the Plan, consultation activities allowed Council to “assess the community’s sense of safety living on the Northern Beaches, their level of satisfaction with community safety and crime prevention, and to identify issues causing concern”.

The Council placed a copy of the Plan on exhibition in the months prior to its September release for further community feedback, a testament to how the Northern Beaches community has shaped the dialogue of local community safety.

Indeed, following community consultation last year, the Plan includes specific references to youth, including actions to develop a Youth Discussion Paper and deliver youth development programs that build resilience across a diverse cross section of young people.

What is community safety?

According to the Plan, being safe is defined as “being protected from harm and danger, both emotionally and physically”.

“Community safety involves reducing crime, controlling risk, preventing injury and supporting vulnerable community members … recognising the need for all sections of the community to work together to create a safer environment for people to live, work and travel.

“The perception of safety is just as important as the experience of safety itself … when people feel safe, they are more prepared to connect with others and participate in community life, and together they can build more cohesive and resilient communities.”

According to Northern Beaches Council Mayor, Michael Regan, the Plan reflects how Council must work across agencies in a collaborative approach to community safety to meet the specific safety needs of different locations and vulnerable populations.

“The Community Safety Plan outlines the actions we will take to build on our responsiveness to community safety issues over the next five years,” Mayor Regan said.

“Community safety is a high priority, and the Community Safety Plan puts us in good stead to tackle the challenges of the future.”

Strategically, the Plan outlines actions that Council, service partners and the community will take in working towards the Northern Beaches Council Better Together Social Sustainability Strategy 2040.

Goal-setting on community safety: making sense of pandemic crime data

A critical achievement of the Northern Beaches Council Community Safety Plan (2021-2026) is how crime statistics taken during the height of the pandemic are balanced against broader demography and crime data as well as local agency experiences, to best inform priorities for action on community safety.

Demographically, Northern Beaches Council has produced a well-developed snapshot of the Northern Beaches community, which has a higher proportion of retirees and mature adults when compared to Greater Sydney, for example.

When it comes to local crime data, the Annual Recorded Crime Statistics for the Northern Beaches Local Government Area, released in December 2020, confirmed that Northern Beaches crime rates tended to be lower than state averages, with 96 per cent of the community agreeing with the statement “I feel safe”.

However, the Plan critically notes that these crime statistics, taken during the height of the pandemic, can paint a distorted picture of crime and safety experiences in the community in the long-term.

“Although Northern Beaches data shows domestic violence has decreased 28 per cent in the 12 months to December 2020, local agencies are reporting a significant surge in demand for their services,” the Plan reported.

“We see a reduction in fraud, however we know that as our community moved online for work and social interaction, there was a 28.8 per cent rise in the number of Australians falling victim to scams in 2020 compared to 2019.”

To correct for the impact of COVID-19 on local crime data, the Plan drew on added demography and crime sources, such as state-wide crime trends.

“Sexual assault, indecent assault and other sexual offences have continued to rise and form part of a concerning trend throughout New South Wales,” the Plan reported.

“Over the long term, the Northern Beaches highest crime areas are domestic violence, non-domestic violence related assault, fraud and malicious damage.

“Council, Police and partner agencies will continue to thoroughly examine these local issues and ensure strategies are in place to protect and strengthen our local community.”

By studying crime data taken beyond pandemic sources, and listening to frontline feedback from community agencies, Northern Beaches Council has ensured that the Community Safety Plan remains a fitting strategic model for community safety into a post-pandemic world.

Ten priority areas for action on community safety

The five-year roadmap of the Northern Beaches Community Safety Plan outlined ten priority areas for Council, service partners and the community to take action on community safety, organised around the two core outcomes of Safe Places and Safe People.

Each of the ten priority areas is described in full in the Community Safety Plan, with provision of community context as well as a list of actions to be taken over the next five years by Council.

Importantly, the youth and senior population groups have been identified for priority attention in the implementation of actions.

Safe places

The core outcome of Safe Places reflects Council efforts to ensure the community is “safe in public, at home and online”.

The five priority areas for working towards the Safe Places outcome are:

∞ Safe Open Spaces
∞ Safe Neighbourhoods
∞ Safe Businesses
∞ Safe Travel
∞ Safe Online

The success of these five priority areas will be reflected in the proportion of Northern Beaches residents who feel that they are able to participate in community life, measured every two years through a Community Wellbeing Survey.

Safe people

The core outcome of Safe People reflects a commitment from Council to “work with Police and service providers to maximise the safety of Northern Beaches residents”. The five priority areas for working towards the Safe People outcome are:

∞ Safe Residents
∞ Safe Visitors
∞ Safe Relationships
∞ Safe Communities
∞ Safe Supports

The success of these five priority areas will be reflected in the proportion of Northern Beaches residents who feel that they know where to get help when they need it, measured every two years through a Community Wellbeing Survey.

A clear roadmap for council action on community safety

The Northern Beaches Community Action Plan (2021-2026) is a long-term vision that well-demonstrates the heights of Council efforts towards community safety.

Through undertaking rigorous community consultation throughout the development of the Plan, the Council has ensured that the values and actions described in the Plan are a genuine reflection of the best outcomes for the community.

A strength of the Plan is how it balances crime research conducted during the pandemic against other information sources, like state-wide trends in sexual assault and other sexual offences, as well as local agency reporting.

Each of the ten priority areas of the Plan are described in-depth, with specific reference to actions to be taken in the next five years by Council, its service partners and the community.

“Community safety and wellbeing is a complex issue and requires us all, as part of this community, to play a role,” Mayor Regan said.

“It’s more than just policing and security – it’s about building a cohesive, resilient community where everyone feels safe and connected.

“Community safety is a high priority, and the Community Safety Plan puts us in good stead to tackle the challenges of the future.”

The full Community Safety Plan (2021-2026) is accessible via the Strategies and Plans page of the Northern Beaches Council website, will be reviewed annually to accommodate any emerging issues and evaluated every five years.

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