DECEMBER 16 2016
As we enter the festive season proper, the general view of the community is that rather than Santa coming down the chimney with a sackful of toys your next drop-in guests will be baseball bat-wielding Apex gangsters about to knock off the family saloon.
And if Santa does pop in after dark, rather than being greeted by Christmas cake (who doesn’t like Christmas cake?) he will be confronted by a crazed home owner armed with a Taser he bought on the dark web from an American hunting store that specialises in zapping elk.
If the headlines are to be believed the gangs will beat you senseless, steal your presents, grab your singing Christmas polar bear from the front garden nativity scene and escape in your German coupe that has been tastefully decorated with imitation reindeer horns.
Today Frosty the Snowman is a coke dealer, The Nutcracker is an outlaw bikie debt collector and Santa’s elves are unemployed because they didn’t apply for working-with-children certificates.
The expression “Ho, Ho, Ho” at the office Christmas party will have you in front of Human Resources and if you dream of a white Christmas you will be punched in the mouth by a refugee activist.
This time of quiet reflection is the perfect moment to look back on the year and examine the seedy side of life.
We have always been fascinated by crime, but usually as a spectator sport. During the Underbelly Gangland War we became so aware of many of the main characters they were recognised by one name, such as drug dealer Tony Mokbel, killer Carl Williams and hitman Andrew Benji Veniamin.
This year it is different, and we have all become potential players with the rise in home invasions and carjackings that has led to widespread community concerns. Many (not all) of the offenders are juvenile and many (not all) are migrants, with African kids overrepresented in the stats.
Normally crime trends emerge slowly, giving police some chance to get in front of the game. But the jump in angry, violent and plain nasty young criminals has caught everyone by surprise.
While the number of juvenile offenders has dropped, there is a core (fewer than 200) who commit serious crimes as soon as they are bailed.
Mainstream publicity on Apex-like gangs and social media bragging act as recruiting campaigns, attracting kids (usually unemployed, poorly educated and alienated from their families) looking to “belong” to something.
Many of the crimes they commit are almost certain to result in arrest, and yet police say some simply don’t care. Perhaps we are seeing an element of the haves and have-nots, where these groups head to so-called “nice” suburbs to steal items they believe they will never be able to afford.
Proof of this new anger-fuelled recklessness is the number of police cars that are rammed – up from 30 last year to 140 this year. Offenders who commit minor offences risk their lives and those of others by driving off at high speeds, often on the wrong side of the road with their lights off – as if they are part of a real-life video game.
Crime gangs, notably stolen-car rings, have recruited some of these menaces, realising they are usually bailed and back on the streets ready to re-offend.
To counter this, the Andrews government will introduce a so-called Fagin law, which will leave adults who recruit kids to commit crimes facing up to 10 years’ jail. We applaud this measure (in fact we recommended it in this column in July).
Certainly Premier Daniel Andrews has gone all Dirty Harry in the past month with a truckload of law-and-order initiatives that include an increase in police of 2729 officers over four years and introducing new DNA powers.
More police will be assigned as first responders and more will be rostered to work nightshift – when many of the crazies come out to play.
It was not that long ago that one mature-age police recruit informed his bosses at his first station that he would much prefer to work during the day, and when informed he needed to be a little more flexible on rostering matters he produced a doctor’s certificate stating he was frightened of the dark.
There is a commitment to buy new police helicopters (we called for that in July) and a police hotline to take the pressure off triple zero (we called for that in September).
Consider this: At least 600 calls a day, or about 220,000 a year, to triple zero are non-urgent, and this pushes out response times. As it stands, Victoria is the only state that does not have a police advice line to triage calls, an anomaly Premier Andrews is committed to fixing.
Juvenile offenders who trashed the Parkville Youth Justice Centre have been sent to Barwon’s adult prison and the government has introduced a mandatory life sentence for murdering a police officer.
The law will be retrospective – for it is designed to keep Russell Street bomber Craig Minogue in jail. Minogue is the last of the gang that in 1986 exploded a car bomb outside the Russell Street police station, killing Constable Angela Taylor and injuring another 21 people.
He was sentenced to life with a minimum of 30 years and expected to be eligible for parole in a few weeks’ time. Minogue also killed notorious inmate Alex Tsakmakis and was given a concurrent sentence – meaning he effectively got away with murder.
Police believe he organised the payback murder of Prue Bird, 13, who was related to a prosecution witness in the bombing case, but it is a theory only.
When Minogue was given a minimum sentence, there was no real outrage and no appeal to a higher court. Today there is no doubt he would be sentenced to die in jail, which shows the theory that courts are becoming softer is just nonsense.
Minogue says he has changed and has devoted himself to study – managing to gain his PhD. He has few friends on the outside, and the move to slam the cell door on him makes political sense.
But our system works because even the most detestable have rights. Minogue should have been able to argue his cases before the Parole Board and if he remains a risk he would remain inside, because his maximum sentence remains life. Being eligible for parole does not make you entitled to it.
Which leads us to our next theory. Labor governments tend to be tougher on crime than conservative ones. The Liberal/Nationals are seen as pro police, which means the ALP has to go a little further to hold law-and-order voters.
Our profound hope is that having committed to a $2 billion-plus law-and-order boost, the government and opposition will start to get serious about the cause rather than the consequence of crime.
There are innovative programs from Glasgow to Texas that are reducing crime rates and prison numbers. We need to tap into their successes rather than repeat their mistakes.
In the world of counter-terrorism, Assistant Commissioner Ross Guenther and his team, working closely with federal agencies, have done a super job foiling several plots, but as even the best goalies know eventually one will get through to the back of the net.
In the past few days, the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (what a stupid name) released a report on three separate investigations involving police taking and trafficking illicit drugs.
It is a small sample and entirely unsurprising for no occupation is immune from drugs, but it is worrying nonetheless. A few years ago, then chief commissioner Ken Lay said some members were using body-building steroids – hardly a good mix when carrying a gun and making life-and-death decisions.
IBAC recommended that more work be done in recruiting to weed out those inclined to get on the gear. Certainly the New York Mollen investigation into police corruption found those who went bad had questionable histories before joining the force.
We are about to embark on an unprecedented recruiting drive to employ 2729 extra police, which means in real terms the figure is closer to 4000 to cover resignations and retirements.
And it will be the decisions on who enters the Police Academy in the next four years that will impact on the force for the next 30.
If you are looking for a Christmas gift I suggest former colleague Shaun Carney’s autobiography: Press Escape (MUP $29.99).
It is not so much a book on journalism but one that takes you from his Frankston childhood to the corridors of political power. His columns have always been reasoned, as he prefers analysis to advocacy.
Shaun and I started on the same day in 1978 at the Herald and Weekly Times as the only two male university graduate cadets. He had wanted to be a journalist for years; I applied on a whim. He aced his job interview; I got into an argument with the interviewer.
An executive later tipped that one of those graduates would become an outstanding journalist. Clearly that was Shaun.
Naked City will return in February.
Source : The Age