February 14, 2015 – 10:30PM
Reporter at The Canberra Times
Increased security scrutiny and sophisticated detection techniques are the major factors behind a tripling of arrests at Canberra Airport involving prohibited weapons and items last year.
In the year where Australia’s terror alert level was raised to high for the first time, Melbourne and Sydney airports also had major spikes, arrests were up 189 per cent and 50 per cent respectively at the nation’s two largest airports, exclusively obtained federal police figures showed.
ANU College of Asia and Pacific visiting fellow Clarke Jones said the arrests rarely had a terrorism connection but were a reflection of an increased security focus.
“I suppose what is alarming is the number of weapons being detected and the increase in arrest rates does suggest we were missing things in the first place,” he said.
“You’ve got personnel increase as a result of the security level being raised … certainly you’ve seen [that] at airports because of that concern in violent extremist movements and potentially coming in from overseas from war hotspots Syria and Iraq, so naturally you’d see an increase in the detection of prohibited weapons and potentially arrests.”
Aviation expert Desmond Ross said aviation authorities were becoming more efficient and careful in regards security procedures.
“We’ve got better and smarter equipment today, the explosive detection devices at airports, the x-rays, body scanners,” he said.
“The new technology is more effective than it would have been even five years ago.”
The Australian Federal Police dismissed there had been a dramatic crime rise at airports.
A spokesman said the statistical increases could be “largely explained” by changes in the way data was collected and reported.
No details on these changed methods were provided.
“The data also reflects increasingly effective screening practices occurring at airports,” an AFP spokesman said.
The most common cause of Canberra arrests, up from 19 in 2013 to 56 last year, was for prohibited weapons at screening points. A crackdown on prohibited items – which include any blunt objects which could be used to bludgeon and any sharp items which could cause bodily harm – led to 18 arrests, up from three a year before.
The number of offences – generally leading to charges – rose 280 per cent in Canberra last year – the 76 offences reported eclipsed the number in the five prior years combined.
Prohibited weapon and item offences were the lead cause of Melbourne’s boom, accounting for 97 of the 101 arrests.
Sydney airport’s spike was also due to weapon and item offences in addition to 32 arrests for unauthorised access. There had been no equivalent arrests in 2013.
Canberra Airport had a slight decline in overall passenger numbers in 2014, while Sydney had a 1.7 per cent rise and Melbourne numbers were up 4 per cent.
A Canberra Airport spokeswoman said increased security measures implemented at the airport last year, confirmed in October, were unrelated to the AFP figures.
“We don’t comment on matters related to airport security, however we are not concerned as the apparent increase is in line with other major airports,” she said.
“We believe Canberra as a city is well-served by people who know what they are doing with respect to counter-terrorism, given that Parliament House is located here, not to mention the Defence presence.”
The AFP did not respond to questions seeking details on the most common weapons and items discovered.
Source : The Canberra Times