Chief minister rejects calls for private cops to go

The Northern Territory government has refused to stop using private security to bolster its force and tackle alcohol-fuelled crime, dismissing two critical recommendations of a long-awaited policing review.

Chief Minister Eva Lawler has rejected recommendations to phase out Police Auxiliary Liquor Inspectors (PALIs) and private security guards who are contracted to businesses, including bottle shops and shopping centres.

The 194-page report released on Tuesday by former territory police union boss Vince Kelly made 18 recommendations.

All but four were accepted by Ms Lawler's government as it seeks to rein in crime that is fuelling national headlines on a daily basis.

A police truck in Alice Springs.
The Northern Territory government has struggled to maintain law and order in Alice Springs.

Mr Kelly said the review “found limited evidence” that supported the continuation of PALIs in their current form, instead recommending they be trained as police constables.

While government data showed there had been a decline in alcohol-related assaults immediately following the introduction of PALIs, "the trend has risen since 2020 and was at an all-time high in Alice Springs in 2022," Mr Kelly wrote.

He found NT police were funded for 75 PALIs but had struggled to retain them and had 41 vacancies at the time of the review, with constables back-filling them with overtime.

The Labor government has also refused to phase out private security guards which have been given considerable policing powers under changes to the territory’s weapons and liquor laws.

Mr Kelly found that private security was "undertaking roles traditionally performed by police" and there was a concern they lack legislative powers and training to do so safely.

Both PALIs and private security guards have been touted by the Lawler government as critical to maintaining law and order ahead of elections in August.

Police Minister Brent Potter
Police Minister Brent Potter argued that private security was key to law and order in the NT.

Police Minister Brent Potter refuted Mr Kelly’s assertions.

"Territorians, specifically those in Alice Springs and Katherine, want to see PALIs remain," he said. 

"Right now, you need a uniform member, whether it's a PALI, a fully sworn constable or a licensing inspector - someone needs to be on those bottle shops."

Two recommendations accepted by the government were already met with funding announcements last week, including 200 more police officers and 25 more call-takers. 

Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro welcomed the review but the Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency said more police could be a "potential disaster" for the over-policing of Aboriginal residents.

"Any investment in policing resources must be matched with a commensurate investment in the criminal justice system, including courts and specialised legal services," their spokesperson said.

The review also recommended a new police deputy chief role and for an inter-agency review panel to coordinate, monitor and evaluate the government’s response to the recommendations of the review.

Chief Minister Eva Lawler said accepting the recommendations would come at a "significant cost" to taxpayers but "we will give the Northern Territory police force the resources it needs to be more responsive to the needs of the community".

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