What are the trends in recorded drug crimes in the ACT and Australia?

From ATODA’s May 2019 eBulletin

The ABS has released the Recorded crime— offenders data for the 2017-18 year, and for the pre-ceding decade. With respect to drug offences, nationally, it provides the following key findings:

•Illicit drug offences and acts intended to cause injury were the most common principal offences.

•In 2017–18, offenders of illicit drug offences and Acts intended to cause injury accounted for the largest number of offenders (78,167 and 78,391 offenders, respectively).

•Between 2016–17 and 2017–18, the number of Illicit drug offenders decreased by 4% (or 2,993 of-fenders).

•Over two thirds (67%) had a principal offence of possess and/or use illicit drugs.

Over the decade 2008-09 to 2017-18, nationally, the number of offenders with illicit drug offences record-ed as their most serious offence increased from 56,310 to 78,176, a 39% increase. The rate (number of offenders per 100,000 population) increased from 301 to 362, a 20% increase. The increase in the ACT was far higher than nationally with respect to both the number of recorded offenders and the rate: the number increased from 239 to 506, an increase of 112%, while the national rate increased from 78 to 140, an increase of 81%. Disturbingly, the number of recorded offenders in the ACT increased by a massive 21% in the single year 2016-17 to 2017-18 (from 418 to 506 offenders). Nationally, the number fell by 1% over the same period. Of the 506 ACT offenders recorded in the 2017-18

year, 68 (13%) had the most serious offence of deal or traffic in illicit drugs, 21 (4%) the offence of manufacture or cultivate illicit drugs, and 413 (82%) the offence of possess and/or use illicit drugs. The ACT 2017-18 rate of 140 per 100,000 population is just 39% of the national rate of 362 per 100,000. The good news in the dataset is that the proportion of offenders diverted away from the courts has in-creased markedly. In the ACT in 2008-09, 52% of offenders were proceeded against by police in the courts, and 48% diverted. A decade later, in 2017- 18, the proportion appearing before the courts was 37%, with 63% diverted. …Australian Bureau of Statistics 2019, Recorded crime, offenders, 2017-18, cat. no. 4519.0, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, data cubes, www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4519.0.

Comment: ATODA continues to be concerned that, based on these figures, ACT Policing continues to target people who use drugs (the possession and self-administration offences) rather than those in-volved in serious drug crimes such as manufacturing and trafficking. The Canberra Times (24 March 2019) reported that ‘An ACT Policing spokesman said one of the reasons behind the increase in illicit drug offenders was a population increase of about 21 per cent in the 10 years to 2017-18’. What is concealed by this statement is the fact that the rate of increase in recorded drug crime over the decade was 81%, and over the last year 21%, levels far higher than the rate of increase in the size of the ACT population. ATODA urges the ACT Government to investigate the reasons for this massive increase in recorded drug crime in the ACT, as it is inconsistent with other information sources about trends in the prevalence of drug use. On the other hand, ATODA is pleased to see the significant increase in the proportion of drug offenders who are being given the opportunity of diversion away from the courts, as research evidence indicates the benefits, to both the offenders and the community, of the drug offender diversion programs such as those we have in the ACT.

Editor’s Note: FFDLR have the same concerns about the police targeting of users rather than more serious drug crimes.