Hamilton Detective Sergeant Mark James was relaxing on his kayak on a lake, never thinking his after-work activity would end with threats against his life.
But that‘s what happened when he dared ask a group of alcohol-affected youths to stop throwing empty beer bottles into the water.
“One of them became aggressive and started swearing at me, telling me to take my little yellow kayak and f*** off or he’d fix me up,” Detective Sergeant James said.
“And then I had that moment of realisation that I am by myself in a kayak in the water and there are four of them on the bank with glass bottles.”
What he did have on his side was his training as a police officer.
But while the youths did not realise he was an off-duty cop, Detective Sergeant James was acutely aware of his vulnerability.
“I really had to work very hard to diffuse the situation,” he said.
“If I had lost my temper with them or had a few beers on board as well, it would have been on.”
Detective Sergeant James’ experience in Hamilton struck a timely chord with his colleague, Warrnambool Violence Prevention Board (WVPB) Chair and police Inspector Paul Marshall.
He said new figures highlight the impact of alcohol fuelled violence on others.
“Violence destroys relationships and individuals and the common driver are alcohol products, which seem to bring out the worst in people,” Inspector Marshall said.
“We created the WVBP to do something about violence within our community and to tackle this heinous safety issue.”
A recent Australian snapshot study published in the journals Addiction estimated 14 to 22 per cent of all injuries treated at emergency departments were because of another person being affected by alcohol products. At Warrnambool Base Hospital, emergency visits due to assaults or intentional injury are seven times higher on Friday and Saturday nights compared with the rest of the week.
According to Deakin University’s Last Drinks study, this coincides with the so-called ‘high-alcohol hours’ when hospital visits spike because of alcohol consumption. General violence, maltreatment, neglect and sexual assaults are among the harms emergency staff deal with during this time, with injury caused by family members, intimate partners, acquaintances and strangers.
The Warrnambool figures show 69 per cent of patients with injuries inflicted by others were male, with almost all involving a non-relative or stranger.
Of this group of patients, 66 per cent had been drinking alcohol at the time their injury occurred.
For women the picture was starkly different, with almost half of all injuries inflicted by a family member or intimate partner. Less than a third of these women had been drinking when they were injured.
“As a hardened police member of 25 years I get apprehensive when I see drunken, unruly behaviour on the streets or in our parks; and we know that it’s even worse in the confines of homes,” Inspector Marshall said.
“I want our children growing up in an environment free from alcohol-fuelled violence and that’s what we will keep working towards.”
He said he was aware Detective Sergeant James was genuinely fearful about what could have happened.
He said the Last Drinks project was integral to the board’s focus of sharing messages about community health and safety.
“This is at odds with how the alcohol industry markets its products with discount deals for multi-buys and premixes containing more than one standard alcoholic drink, enticing people to consume more and making it difficult for them to monitor how much they are drinking,” he said. The youths who threatened Detective Sergeant James received cautions for their poor behaviour. They were underage.
“For me it gave a different perspective on alcohol-fuelled violence because normally I’m dealing with it as a professional, but this time it was just me in my kayak,” he said.