Alice Springs is one of the most heavily patrolled towns in Australia. Its long-standing struggle with social issues and crime has made many residents feel vulnerable, in need of a stern police presence.
First time visitors often feel intimidated in a town that sometimes feels under siege. Paddy wagons constantly do the rounds and officers stand outside bottle shops, watching every customer from the corner of their eyes.
Despite debate questioning if heavy police presence is necessary given its cost; many locals wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Alice Springs urban centre represents approximately 12% of the Northern Territory’s population.
Statistics published by Northern Territory Police show 2015-2016 saw a drop in the number of house break-ins (-21.1%), assault (-7.6%), alcohol related assaults (-14.4%) and domestic violence related assaults (-14.4%) when compared to 2014-2015. However, the occurrence of other crimes increased. The number sexual assaults rose by 12.7%, motor vehicle theft by 15.7%, property damage by 18.9% and commercial break-ins by 34.3%.
On Monday, Northern Territory Police announced that as of Thursday 12 January, operating hours of the Alice Springs Police Station front counter would change to 7.00am through to 7.00pm, seven days a week.
Under the changes, the police station's front counter would no longer be staffed 24 hours a day from Thursday to redirect resources to peak periods.
Acting Assistant Commissioner Danny Bacon said the change would help ensure police continue delivering the best customer service.
“The decision to adjust the operating hours of the Alice Springs front counter is the result of a detailed workload analysis of our front counter operations, and follows consultation with the NT Police Association,” he said in a statement.
“We have redirected our front counter resources to the peak periods, so reducing the wait for our customers at times of highest demand. It’s about providing timely and efficient service.”
Police said an intercom system located at the front door of the station would be available for police assistance 24/7. The intercom would connect users requiring police assistance with the communication centre, which never closes. If an immediate response is required by police, officers would attend the front counter.
But on Tuesday, less than a day after the announcement was made, NT police backed down. They said plans would be deferred for two weeks, amid concerns about a lack of community consultation.
"We'll be appreciating any feedback... we'll take on board what is being said," NT Deputy Commissioner Kate Vanderlaan said at a press conference in Darwin.
"We appreciate that a change this week on the 12th of January did not offer enough time to adequately discuss the proposed changes with the Alice Springs community."
Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion has commented on the matter and given it a political twist, saying he is worried the Gunner government's approach will reverse the positive progress delivered by the former Country Liberals chief minister Adam Giles.
"A visible police presence is critical if our communities are to be safe - and this includes ensuring the police station in Alice Springs is open around the clock," Minister Scullion said.
The CLP Senator for the NT is seeking an assurance from Labor that it is not "cutting services funded through the Coalition government's $208 million investment in policing and $81 million for community safety measures".
In response, a spokesperson for the NT Government told NITV News: “The Gunner government is definitely not cutting back on community safety. In fact, we are investing additional funds into our police force. We have just announced $30 million to recruit an additional 120 police over the next four years, along with funding for new technology.”
Even though the comments from both sides of politics discuss police funding, they do so in a generic fashion, without directly addressing the issues that relate specifically to Alice Springs and their residents.