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Hutt Street Centre incorrectly blamed for crime: SA Police

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Senior SA Police officers have revealed they feel “sorry” for the Hutt Street Centre for being “incorrectly” blamed for inciting criminal behaviour in the city’s southeast, following the release of new data showing the street accounts for less than two per cent of reported crime in the CBD.

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Fronting a poverty select committee hearing on Tuesday, SA Police Assistant Commissioner Paul Dickson and Superintendent Craig Wall said they had been “personally criticised” by members of the community for “taking the side of Hutt Street”.

In April last year, InDaily reported mounting political pressure had forced the Hutt Street Centre, which provides an array of services to the homeless, to consider relocating after 64 years of operation.

Some city councillors, residents and traders in the city’s southeast corner had argued that the centre had contributed to what they claimed was a spike in the number of violent incidents along the street.

The Adelaide City Council – spurred by former councillor and now federal Liberal senator Alex Antic and current councillor Anne Moran – committed in April last year to install five new CCTV cameras on the street in response to what the councillors claimed was a surge in the number of complaints of alleged violent behaviour.

The council also commissioned a security guard and established a precinct working group, despite SA Police denying any increase in reports of violent crime in the southeast corner of the CBD.

The security guard was later decommissioned after reporting only one incident in two months.

In April last year, Greens MLC Tammy Franks said she would compel those making claims of violent behaviour along Hutt Street to provide evidence at a parliamentary select committee.

The committee has since heard several accounts of alleged violent behaviour along the street, but SA Police refutes claims they are related to the Hutt Street Centre.

Dickson told Tuesday’s committee hearing that police had analysed crime data in the CBD “to death” and concluded “there clearly hasn’t been an increase in crime rates or an increase in behavioural issues in that part of the CBD”.

“We have been criticised—I personally have been criticised—for taking the side of Hutt Street,” he said.

“That’s not my view. In that part of the environment, I am quite apolitical.

“My personal belief is that the Hutt Street Centre is providing a really good service to the community and it is my role as the assistant commissioner… to actually support them in providing that service.”

Dickson said he felt “quite sorry” for the Hutt Street Centre “because they have been blamed for a lot of things over which they have no control over and, to be quite frank, are incorrect”.

“We often have difficulties where people make allegations that these people are clients of the homeless centre, and often they are not,” he said.

“The Hutt St Centre don’t know anything about them; they are not clients of the Hutt St Centre at all.

“Unfortunately, some within our community believe that it is an offence to be homeless, which creates a significant challenge for policing.”

Hutt Street Traders Association secretary Wayne Copley disputed the SA Police statistics, describing it as “nonsensical” to compare reported crime data between city precincts.

He said the Hutt Street crime figure was low as the Hutt Street Centre is only open between 7am and 1pm, and closed on Sundays, whereas Hindley Street is more likely to have a higher crime rate because of the greater prevalence of alcohol and “testosterone-fulled violence”.

Copley said the number of incidents along Hutt Street was “almost zero” when the centre was closed.

Dickson and Wall presented the committee with new data showing a 12 per cent reduction in recorded criminal offences on or near Hutt Street between April last year and April this year.

SA Police data shows the Hutt Street area accounts for only 1.9 per cent of all reported crime within the Adelaide CBD, compared to 12.3 per cent on North Terrace, 11.5 per cent on Hindley Street, 10.6 per cent at Rundle Mall and 2.3 per cent on Rundle Street.

According to Wall, the 1.9 per cent crime rate along Hutt Street has “been consistent over the last number of years”.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Dickson recounted an alleged stabbing at a Hutt Street car park.

“The allegation was that the person was stabbed by a homeless person,” he said.

“On investigation by the police, we found that this person had been carrying a bottle along the footpath, had fallen over, the bottle had broken and she had received injuries in her stomach as a consequence of that fall.

“It was a terrible incident, but the point I am making here is that we reported on the truth of that matter – that a homeless person hadn’t been involved at all.

“However, months later when we are dealing with the community we are still getting the point—and we had to clarify continually— that this individual had not been stabbed.

“They were basically saying that the police had it wrong. Well, we didn’t have it wrong.

“We always tell the truth, especially about issues like that. It became very frustrating because, to me, what it does is it creates this fear of crime.”

Franks spoke of another allegation put to the committee in February this year of a man armed with a hockey stick hitting a parked car near Hutt Street.

She said the allegation was “claimed to be part of the problem of Hutt Street, and that this man’s behaviour was somehow the responsibility of Hutt Street”.

“I note that in your statement you have said that the police acted immediately once the matter was reported to the Adelaide Police Station on the same day,” she said.

“You followed up and contacted Mr Arsenikakis, who made the report and filmed the incident, and assessed his recorded CCTV footage, and that this subsequent operation identified that the male resided locally within the CBD, that he was not associated with the Hutt St Centre and that the vehicle he had struck was his own.”

Wall confirmed Franks’ account.

“When he was hitting it, he was saying that he was upset that the battery had gone flat or there was some mechanical issue with it, and he was hitting his own vehicle,” he said.

“We have a lot of reports of incidents, and the inference is that, if it is occurring near the Hutt St Centre, it must be associated with the Hutt Street Centre.”

Arsenikakis is mentioned in a letter sent in March by Dickson to the Hutt Street Traders Association – a group that lobbied the Hutt Street Centre to relocate.

The letter was tabled to the parliamentary committee as evidence.

In the letter, Dickson refers to the alleged incident involving the man with the hockey stick.

“In the first instance, Mr James Arsenikakis approach the Hutt Street Centre to report the male’s behaviour and it was the advice of the Hutt Street Centre staff for him to attend and report the incident to a police station.

“There was no initial report made to the police at the time and police acted immediately when the matter was reported to the Adelaide Police Station on the same day.

“Police immediately followed up and contacted Mr Arsenikakis and assessed his recorded CCTV footage.

“The subsequent Operation paragon investigation identified that the male resided locally within the CBD, was not associated to the Hutt Street Centre and the vehicle he struck was believed to be his own.

“Mr Arsenikakis was advised of the outcome and that no offences had been committed.”

The answer to a question on notice to SA Police from the committee, also tabled in parliament, refers to a separate incident.

“In her evidence, Ms Serafina Tané (CBD resident) told the committee that she had been threatened over a mobile phone,” the question states.

“Ms Tané informed the committee that the threat made against her occurred on the mobile phone of Ms Colette Slight (Hutt Street Traders Association) who handed her the phone and who was present at the time.

“Ms Tané informed the committee that she had made a formal complaint, in person, to the police.”

In its response, SA Police said it had a record of the complaint.

“The victim in this matter has been advised by police that there is insufficient evidence to substantiate an offence having been committed,” SA Police responded.

“The victim was advised of this decision.

“The victim further advises she has not heard from the suspect since reporting the matter to police.”

In March, Adelaide City Councillor Phil Martin provided separate evidence to the committee, claiming the movement to remove the Hutt Street Centre from Hutt Street was brought on by the “vested interest” of a property developer.

“I believe that person was the architect of what became a war on the Hutt Street Centre,” he said.

“That developer was involved in meetings referred to in emails I have with community members and with business owners.

“Those meetings resolved to publicise claims and pressure police and politicians on those claims that there were drug dealers, drug addicts and criminals on Hutt Street and, later, that this criminal behaviour was associated with homeless people gathering at the Hutt St Centre.

“Photographs and videos — most of which, I believe, can be traced back to the developer — and emails and SMS messages were sent at times daily and even twice daily to community members, to the media and to elected members.”

InDaily contacted the person believed to be the developer, who declined to comment.

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