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Crime, Law & Order

The institutions of law and order include the police, courts and prisons. Mandated by legislation of the parliament, these institutions of contemporary Melbourne have their origins in society before the gold rushes. Melburnians have recurrently worried about rising crime and law and order. The 1850s gold rushes brought ex-convicts and runaway sailors to the hotels and boarding houses of the township. During the 1880s land boom, open flouting of liquor licensing laws by publicans, loud bands of larrikins on busy city streets and undisguised prostitution around the theatre district in Bourke Street, inspired fears of a crime wave. In the 20th century, moral panics arose because of a police strike, organised crime and underworld shootings in the 1920s, in response to the apparent lawlessness of bodgie gangs in the 1950s, and in the latter decades of the century because of fears about new types of crime in road rage and home invasions and an open market for heroin. Melbourne is certainly a more dangerous place than in earlier years of the 20th century or in some periods of the 19th century. Yet it has always been less crime-ridden than the American metropolitan centres with which it is automatically compared. As well, in recent years, crime rates in Melbourne and Victoria have been lower than in the rest of Australia and certainly lower than in Sydney.