Alcohol-fuelled violence: Focus on 'compliance' making it harder to prevent incidents, say police

One of the most senior police officers at Kings Cross says state government policies are tying up the force with ''technical'' alcohol compliance duties, placing at risk their ability to prevent violent incidents such as the bashing of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie.

Inspector Pat Gooley, who is also vice-president of the NSW Police Association, says the focus on the new alcohol rules for licensed venues in Kings Cross has ''moved our focus onto compliance''.

''We spend a lot of time enforcing, checking, detecting breaches and that sort of thing, while we're dealing with the drunks on the street,'' he said.

''We're just securing the venues while this crazy game of 'punch each other out' goes on.''

Mr Gooley was working on the beat on New Year's Eve when Daniel Christie was allegedly punched in the head by Shaun McNeil, leaving him in a coma with a fractured skull.

On Monday, he wrote an open letter to Premier Barry O'Farrell and Hospitality Minister George Souris calling on them to appreciate how dire the situation is.

Detailing his experiences that night, watching emergency service workers try to save Daniel Christie's life, he asked: ''So my question is, where were you, George, on New Year's Eve? Somewhere safe, shielded from the horrors of what people can do to each other?''

Mr Gooley arrived at Kings Cross local area command five days after the fatal attack on 18-year-old Thomas Kelly in July 2012.

He has since witnessed the impact of the government's ''plan of management'' which included drink restrictions for venues, a ban on the use of glass after midnight and mandatory responsible service of alcohol marshals.

But in an interview with Fairfax Media after New Year's Eve, Mr Gooley dismissed the government's response as ineffective. He said the rules were cumbersome to enforce. ''My personal opinion is it's window dressing. It's not attacking the heart of the problem.''

Mr Gooley said the focus on compliance came at the expense of police on the street preventing violence. The need for more police to focus on alcohol-related violence in Kings Cross, The Rocks and central Sydney was draining resources from suburban commands, he said.

''A lot of those cops come from the suburbs,'' he said. ''So when a bloke catches someone breaking into his car at Miranda [or] someone at Leichhardt gets their house broken into and it takes cops a lot longer to get there, that's because we've dragged coppers from the suburbs every Friday and Saturday night into Kings Cross, Surry Hills and City central.''

The police association is a member of the Last Drinks Coalition of emergency services workers which has been pushing the government to trial 1am lockouts from licensed venues and 3am closing for Kings Cross and other parts of the state.

The government has refused to consider a trial of the measures, arguing it already has the power to impose lockouts of individual venues and a one-size fits all approach is inappropriate.

In the interview, Mr Gooley questioned comments by Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch at the weekend that widespread venue lockouts would harm Sydney's reputation as an international tourism destination. ''He seemed to be of the view it would affect our reputation and our tourism,'' Mr Gooley said. ''I challenge anyone to go and find a city where the tourism is … based on binge drinking and violence.''

Mr Souris' spokesman said Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research figures showed alcohol-related violence on licensed premises in Kings Cross had fallen a third since the new strategy came in.

The government had also introduced a ''three strikes and you're out'' policy under which pubs could lose their liquor licences for repeated breaches.

SMH.COM.AU

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