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City councillor warned not to voice Chinatown safety concerns

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An Adelaide City Councillor says he regrets not advocating for improved public safety around Chinatown earlier in the year after receiving advice from council staff and elected members that doing so could lead to negative media coverage.

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The city council last night unanimously agreed to conduct a safety audit of the Chinatown precinct following claims from Adelaide’s Chinese community that crime and anti-social behaviour in the area had spiked in the past six months.

The motion, lodged by central ward councillor Simon Hou, also asked the council to work with SA Police to consider installing improved lighting and CCTV cameras throughout the precinct.

Hou, who owns a business on Gouger Street near Chinatown, told last night’s council meeting that traders in the area had reported 17 crimes to police in the past month, with “many more” not formally reported.

SA Police superintendent Craig Wall told InDaily this morning that police had not noticed any recent increase in crime reporting in Chinatown or its surrounds.

He was unable to provide data on the number of call outs or reported crimes in and around the Chinatown precinct as statistics “can’t be narrowed down to such a specific location”.

But Hou said that premises around Chinatown had been broken into “multiple times” at night and during the day.

“Chinatown safety has been an ongoing issue for a very, very long time and (it’s) become worse and worse over the past six months,” he told the chamber.

“During the daytime there are many… people actually walking through the café, restaurants and yelling out for money, cigarettes and alcohol and some of them come in when they’re half naked – topless and there’s one female employee in the café.

“Premises (get) broken into multiple times at night and their own CCTV got stolen as well.”

Hou said he had intended to move a similar motion in April, but was told “if this goes to the media and the media use the wrong headline it might create a perception that this area is no longer safe (and would make) people stop coming here”.

“I really regret that I did not move this motion earlier in the year,” he told the chamber.

“I watched (Chinatown safety) get worse and worse with my own eyes.”

Hou told InDaily this morning fellow elected members and the council’s administration had advised him not to proceed with his original motion.

It comes after the council was embroiled in a heated public debate over claims from some councillors, residents and traders that clients from homeless service provider the Hutt Street Centre had prompted a spike in the number of alleged violent incidents in the city’s southeastern corner.

The 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.

Central ward councillor Simon Hou. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

“With Hutt Street they said it is a concern that the media could have a negative headline (about Chinatown) and I need to be careful,” Hou said this morning.

“Some of those councillors who have been dealing with those Hutt Street matters before, they have the concern that people hear from the media and think the area is no longer safe.

“I will confirm it again and again, in Chinatown, if you come here as a customer there will be no problem.

“It is the problem for the business operators and staff, not the customers (and) I don’t want to see the whole area become a ghost-town.”

During the meeting, Moran said the council had to be “very careful… that we don’t create an over-exaggeration that your constituents may not thank you for”.

“We had this problem with Hutt Street,” she said.

“I will support this but I think we don’t need to be too over-dramatic about how unsafe Chinatown is.

“I think Chinatown is a safe place and we should tread carefully when we label it as a crime-wave.”

But Hou said this morning that he had consulted with leaders from Adelaide’s Chinese community about the risk of negative media coverage, with the group ultimately agreeing that “urgent action” needed to be taken.

He also pointed criticism at the council and SA Police for not addressing the Chinese community’s concerns about public safety when they were first raised.

“What really concerns me here is people think that Council is treating them with double standards,” he said.

“They report these matters to Council and SA Police but lack action afterwards.”

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor told InDaily after the meeting that Hou had raised safety concerns around Chinatown earlier in the year “particularly around homeless people in the area”.

“We raised this with our staff so that we could work with SAPOL and assist with community and communications,” she said.

“These are perceptions of safety issues, rather than crime, which requires a more nuanced response.”

A council report states emerging community safety concerns in Chinatown were raised with SA Police and the council in July this year.

Superintendent Wall said SA Police worked closely with the council, stakeholders and business owners to address behavioural issues in the Chinatown area.

“Eastern District patrols proactively patrol Chinatown, the Central Markets, Central bus station and the surrounding areas to monitor behaviour and increase public safety. The area is also under close surveillance with an extensive network of cameras,” he said. 

“Chinatown can be a busy place, with lots of restaurants and other entertainment on offer, however, police do not tolerate any antisocial behaviour.

“We encourage anyone who witnesses antisocial behaviour or any substantive offences to report it immediately on the police assistance line on 131 444.”

The council’s CEO, Mark Goldstone, added that senior police officers had met with council representatives and had door-knocked on over 20 businesses in the Chinatown area to provide crime prevention advice and personal contact information should traders need support.

He also listed other prevention measures, including engagement with Chinese print media, a “walk-through” with council representatives and community leaders, and a crime prevention presentation.

“Council will deliver a $500k project including functional and creative lighting in Moonta Street, with installation commencing in late October 2019 and completion by end of January 2020 in time for Chinese New Year,” he said. 

“Stage 2 of this project will consider the ground plan including a new pavement design and paving, new stormwater and urban elements, subject to funding in future budget years.

“The Chinatown area is well served by CCTV cameras, with cameras in Moonta, Gouger and Grote Streets.”

Asked if the council administration had advised Hou not to precede with his original motion, Goldstone said advice was provided to councillors to use “existing mechanisms for sharing information regarding safety concerns with SAPOL”.

He said crime in the city had been steadily declining, with a 43.6 per cent reduction in overall crime reported since 2002.

The council will release results from its Chinatown safety audit in December.

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