The role for police in addressing alcohol-related harm inside and outside licensed premises

Martin, Peter John (2013) The role for police in addressing alcohol-related harm inside and outside licensed premises. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Alcohol consumption is enmeshed with Australian culture (Palk, 2008) and the use and misuse of alcohol contributes to considerable health and social harms (Barbor et al., 2010; English et al., 1995; Gutjahr, Gmel, & Rehm, 2001; Palk, 2008; Steenkamp, Harrison, & Allsop, 2002). Despite shifts in the way that alcohol is consumed and how it is used, it has been reported that one-third of all alcohol consumed is done so within licensed premises (Lang, Stockwell, Rydon, & Gamble, 1992). Consequently, licensed premises are over-represented as settings in which alcohol-related harms occur. These harms, particularly those related to violence, are associated with particular licensed premises operating in the night-time economy (Briscoe & Donnelly, 2001b; Chikritzhs, Stockwell, & Masters, 1997; Homel, Tomsen, & Thommeny, 1991; Stockwell, 1997).

Police have a role in not only responding to the manifestation of harms, such as crime, injuries, assaults, domestic violence, stealing and sexual offences, but they also have a role in preventing problems, and thereby reducing alcohol and other drug-related harms (Doherty & Roche, 2003). Given the extent of alcohol consumption within licensed premises and the nature and extent of the harms, as well as the lack of opportunity to influence outcomes in other settings (e.g. the home), licensed premises offer police and other stakeholders a significant opportunity to influence positively the reduction of alcoholrelated harm.

This research focuses specifically on the police role in policing licensed premises.

Primarily, this research aims to investigate the factors which are relevant to why and how police officers respond to alcohol-related incidents inside and outside licensed premises. It examines the attitudes and beliefs of police and assesses their knowledge, capacity and ability to effectively police licensed premises. The research methodology uses three distinct surveys. Each contributes to understanding the motivations and practice of police officers in this important area of harm reduction.

Study One involved a survey of police officers within a police district (Brisbane Central District) in Queensland, Australia and used a comprehensive questionnaire involving both quantitative and qualitative techniques. A key research outcome of Study One was the finding that officers had low levels of knowledge of the strategies that are effective in addressing alcohol-related harm both inside and outside licensed premises.

Paradoxically, these officers also reported extensive recent experience in dealing with alcohol issues in these locations. In addition, these officers reported that alcohol was a significant contextual factor in the majority of matters to which they responded. Officers surveyed reported that alcohol increased the difficulty of responding to situations and that licensed premises (e.g. nightclubs, licensed clubs and hotels) were the most difficult contexts to police.

Those surveyed were asked to self-assess their knowledge of the Liquor Act (Qld), which is the primary legislative authority in Queensland for regulating licensed premises.

Surprisingly, well over half of the officers (65%) reported ‘no’ to ‘fair’ knowledge of the Act, despite officers believing that their skill level to police such premises was in the ‘good to very good range’. In an important finding, officers reported greater skill level to police outside licensed premises than inside such premises, indicating that officers felt less capable, from a skill perspective, to operate within the confines of a licensed premise than in the environment immediately outside such premises. Another key finding was that officers reported greater levels of training in responding to situations outside and around licensed premises than to situations inside licensed premises.

Officers were also asked to identify the frequency with which they employed specified regulatory enforcement and community-based strategies. Irrespective of the type of response, ‘taking no action’ or passive policing interventions were not favoured by officers. The findings identified that officers favoured taking a range of strategies (sending home, releasing into the custody of friends, etc.) in preference to arrest.

In another key finding, officers generally reported their support for operational stakeholder partnership approaches to policing licensed premises. This was evidenced by the high number of officers (over 90%) reporting that there should be shared responsibility for enforcing the provisions of the Liquor Act. Importantly, those surveyed also identified the factors which constrain or prevent them from policing licensed premises.

Study Two involved interviewing a small but comprehensive group (n=11) of senior managers from within the Queensland Police Service (QPS) who have responsibility for setting operational and strategic policy. The aim of this study was to examine the attitudes, perceptions and influence that senior officers (at the strategy and policy-setting level) had on the officers at the operational level. This qualitative study was carried out using a purposive sampling (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005; Guba & Lincoln, 1989), focused interview and thematic analytic approach. The interview participants were drawn from three tiers of management at district, regional as well as the whole-of-organisational level.

The first key theme emerging from the study related to role, in terms of both the QPS broader organisational role, and the individual officer role with respect to the policing of licensed premises. For the QPS organisational role, participants at all three strategic levels had a high degree of congruity as to the organisations service role; that is, to enhance public safety. With respect to participants’ beliefs as to whether police officers have knowledge and understanding of their individual roles concerning licensed premises (as opposed to the QPS role), participants reported most commonly that officers had a reasonable to clear understanding of their role. Participant comments also were supportive of the view that officers operating in the research area, Brisbane Central District (BCD), had a clearer understanding of their role than police operating in other locations.

The second key theme to emerge identified a disparity between the knowledge and capability of specialist police, compared with general duties police, to police licensed premises. In fact, a number of the responses to a variety of questions differentiated specialist and general police in a range of domains. One such example related to the clarity of understanding of officer role. Participants agreed that specialist police (Liquor Enforcement & Proactive Strategies [LEAPS] officers) had more clarity of understanding in terms of their role than generalist police. Participants also were strongly of the opinion that specialist police had higher skill levels to deal with issues both inside and outside licensed premises. Some participants expressed the view that general duty police undertook purely response-related activities, or alternatively, dealt with lower order matters. Conversely, it was viewed that specialist police undertook more complex tasks because of their higher levels of knowledge and skill.

The third key theme to emerge concerned the identification of barriers that serve to restrict or prevent police officers from policing licensed premises. Participant responses strongly indicated that there was a diversity of resourcing barriers that restrict police from undertaking their roles in licensed premises. Examples of such barriers were the lack of police and the low ratio of police to patrons, available officer time, and lack of organisational investment in skills and knowledge acquisition. However, some participants indicated that police resourcing in the BCD was appropriate and officers were equipped with sufficient powers (policy and legislation). Again, the issue of specialist police was raised by one participant who argued that increasing the numbers of specialist police would ameliorate the difficulties for police officers policing licensed premises.

The fourth and last key theme to emerge from Study Two related to the perception of senior officers regarding the opportunity and capability of officers to leverage off external partnerships to reduce harms inside and outside licensed premises. Police working in partnership in BCD was seen as an effective harm reduction strategy and strongly supported by the participants. All participants demonstrated a high degree of knowledge as to who these partners were and could identify those government, non-government and community groups precisely. Furthermore, the majority of participants also held strong views that the partnerships were reasonably effective and worked to varying degrees depending on the nature of the partnership and issues such as resourcing. These senior officers identified better communication and coordination as factors that could potentially strengthen these partnerships. This research finding is particularly important for senior officers who have the capacity to shape the policy and strategic direction of the police service, not only in Queensland but throughout Australasia.

Study Three examined the perceptions of those with links to the broader liquor industry (government, non-government and community but exclusive of police) concerning their understanding of the police role and the capacity of police to reduce alcohol-related harm inside and outside licensed premises, and their attitudes towards police. Participants (n=26) surveyed represented a range of areas including the liquor industry, business represenatives and government representatives from Queensland Fire and Rescue Service, Queensland Ambulance Service, Brisbane City Council and Queensland Health.

The first key theme to emerge from Study Three related to participant understanding of the QPS organisational role, and importantly, individual officer role in policing licensed premises. In terms of participant understanding of the QPS role there was a clear understanding by the majority of participants that the police role was to act in ways consistent with the law and to otherwise engage in a range of enforcement-related activities.

Participants saw such activities falling into two categories. The first category related to reactive policing, which included actions around responding to trouble in licensed premises, monitoring crowd controllers and removing trouble-makers. In the second category, proactive approaches, participants identified the following activities as consistent with that approach: early intervention with offenders, support of licensed premises operators and high visibility policing. When participants were asked about their understanding of individual officer roles in the policing of licensed premises, a range of responses were received but the consistent message that emerged was that there is a different role to be played by general duty (uniformed) police compared to specialist (LEAPS Unit) police, which reflects differences in knowledge, skill and capability.

The second key theme that emerged from the data related to the external participants’ views of the knowledge and capability of specialist police, compared with general duty police, to police licensed premises. As noted in the first key theme, participants were universally of the view that the knowledge, skill and capability of police in specialist units (LEAPS Unit) was at a higher level than that of general duty police.

Participants observed that these specialist officers were better trained than their colleagues in generalist areas and were therefore better able to intervene knowledgeably and authoritatively to deal with problems and issues as they emerged. Participants also reported that officers working within BCD generally had a positive attitude to their duties and had important local knowledge that they could use in the resolution of alcohol-related issues.

Participants also commented on the importance of sound and effective QPS leadership, as well as the quality of the leadership in BCD. On both these measures, there was general consensus from participants, who reported positively on the importance and effectiveness of such leadership in BCD.

The third key theme to emerge from Study Three concerned the identification of barriers that serve to restrict or prevent police officers from policing licensed premises.

Overwhelmingly, external participants reported the lack of human resources (i.e. police officers) as the key barrier. Other resourcing limitations, such as available officer time, police computer systems, and the time taken to charge offenders, were identified as barriers. Some participants identified barriers in the liquor industry such as ‘dodgy operators’ and negative media attention as limitations. Other constraints to emerge related to government and policy barriers. These were reflected in comments about the collection by government of fees from licensees and better ‘powers’ for police to deal with offenders. The fourth and final key theme that emerged from Study Three related to the opportunities for and capability of police to leverage off external partnerships to reduce harms inside and outside licensed premises. Not surprisingly, participants had a comprehensive knowledge of a broad range of stakeholders, from a diversity of contexts, influential in addressing issues in licensed premises. Many participants reported their relationships with the police and other stakeholders as effective, productive and consistent with the objectives of partnering to reduce alcohol-related harm. On the other hand, there were those who were concerned with their relationship with other stakeholders, particularly those with a compliance function (e.g. Office of Liquor & Gaming Regulation [OLGR]).

The resourcing limitations of partners and stakeholders were also raised as an important constraining factor in fulfilling the optimum relationship. Again, political issues were mentioned in terms of the impact on partnerships, with participants stating that there is at times political interference and that politicians complicate the relationships of stakeholders.

There are some significant strengths with respect to the methodology of this research. The research is distinguished from previous work in that it examines these critical issues from three distinct perspectives (i.e. police officer, senior manager and external stakeholder). Other strengths relate to the strong theoretical framework that guides and informs the research. There are also some identified limitations, including the subjective nature of self-report data as well as the potential for bias by the author, which was controlled for using a range of initiatives. A further limitation concerns the potential for transferability and generalisability of the findings to other locations given the distinctive nature of the BCD. These limitations and issues of transferability are dealt with at length in the thesis.

Despite a growing body of literature about contextual harms associated with alcohol, and specific research concerning police intervention in such contextual harms, there is still much to learn. While research on the subject of police engaging in alcohol-related incidents has focused on police behaviours and strategies in response to such issues, there is a paucity of research that focuses on the knowledge and understanding of officers engaged in such behaviours and practices. Given the scarcity of research dealing with the knowledge, skills and attitudes of police officers responding to harms inside and outside licensed premises, this research contributes significantly to what is a recent and growing body of research and literature in the field.

The research makes a practical contribution to police agencies’ understanding of officer knowledge and police practice in ways that have the potential to shape education and training agendas, policy approaches around generalist versus specialist policing, strategic and operational strategy, as well as partnership engagements. The research also makes a theoretical contribution given that the research design is informed by the Three Circle

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ID Code: 61067
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Davey, Jeremy, Wallace, Angela M., Freeman, James E., & Palk, Gavan R.
Keywords: police, licensed premises, police strategies, policing licensed premises, reducing harm inside licensed premises, reducing alcohol-related harm, harm minimisation strategies by police, reducing crime and antisocial behaviour, police and alcohol
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety - Qld (CARRS-Q)
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 02 Jul 2013 04:16
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2015 05:02

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