The Northern Territory police commissioner has weighed in on the government’s review of bail laws for offences involving edged weapons, and flagged some officers will be pulled from regular duties to staff the temporary police response following the fatal stabbing of a bottle shop worker in Darwin.
- The bail review was announced after a bottle shop worker was fatally stabbed
- The NT government has not committed to a time frame for the review
- The police commissioner said police would be redirected from normal duties to staff its response
Yesterday, the NT government announced a series of measures, including increased police presence at identified hotspots and a review of police powers, in response to the death of 20-year-old Declan Laverty, who was killed while working at a drive-through BWS in Darwin on Sunday night.
Nineteen-year-old Keith Kerinauia has been charged with Mr Laverty’s murder, as well as aggravated robbery and breach of bail.
It comes a day after key Aboriginal organisations urged the NT government to worth with local leaders and communities on the review and “avoid kneejerk reactions and rushed reform”.
This morning, Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker told ABC Radio Darwin the police force would be contributing to the bail review and outlined what he thought the review should focus on.
“We think there’s an avenue of opportunity to really explore those who’ve got a propensity for violence and have demonstrated violence in the past — what levers can we pull to really put greater controls over them?” he said.
Mr Chalker said he thought laws around the presumption of bail would “be a focal point” of the review.
“If there’s an edge weapon used or and you’ve caused harm to somebody, whether the presumption of bail remains as it currently is or whether that becomes firmer, I think will be a step to certainly have a strong look at,” he said.
“In the event that we demonstrate continually that people don’t do that via breach of bail, we would suggest that that should occur a lot quicker, rather than the constant ability for people to be re-bailed.”
NT Attorney-General Chansey Paech, when asked about the time frame and focus of the review, said he was “not going to pre-empt” either.
“The Northern Territory government has launched an immediate review, it is of highest priority to us,” he said.
“And we’ll work through that. And as soon as that review is conducted, government will absolutely consider all of the options before it and make the appropriate actions.”
Yesterday afternoon, Aboriginal organisations, including the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), cautioned the government against “hastily-applied bail reform”.
“We understand the community sentiment of anger and anguish. And rightly so. But quick fixes will not, and cannot, prevent crime,” acting NAAJA chief executive John Paterson said.
When asked about concerns around “kneejerk reactions” following the bottle shop death and bail review, Mr Paech said: “We need to make sure that we have a considered thought-through process that absolutely addresses the concerns, and that enables the community to feel like the appropriate responses have been taken.”
Police to reorganise presence
Mr Chalker said to staff the police response, some officers would have to be pulled from regular duties, including from the territory’s elite tactical Territory Response Group (TRG), water police and mounted police.
He said that was despite NT Police resources already struggling to keep up with demand.
“We’ll be pulling police from other duties that we think we can ultimately sacrifice for a short period of time,” he said.
“It will have an impact on some business continuity. But the reality of it at the moment is there’s a pressurised environment.”
NT prison population at capacity amid bail review
Statistics provided by NT Correctional Services show, as of today, Darwin’s prison is accommodating 20 prisoners over its capacity, with some prisoners on remand being held at the Darwin Watch House.
More widely, the Northern Territory’s prison population, sitting at 2,042, is at near record numbers.
“Prisoner numbers have been rising steadily throughout 2022 and the first quarter of 2023,” NT Correctional Services said in a statement.
“The maximum prisoner number was 2,061 in February 2023. The pressure on the system is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.”
Mr Chalker said police were “taking care of remand prisoners in our police watch houses … because of the demand environment we’ve created.”