We need police to protect people, not statistics

There is a problem with African youths committing crimes in pockets of Melbourne. That’s widely accepted.

A community taskforce has been established by Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton with leaders from the African-Australian community, so both parties accept there is a need for a solution.

The problem we have with wider acceptance and acknowledgment of this problem is that the issue has been hijacked by political opportunism from both sides. We have people with no real baseline knowledge of the magnitude of the problem, its origins and the best solutions, who weigh into the debate to further a particular cause.

That has led to cynicism from some that a problem exists at all.

The term “gangs’’ has no relevance to our members. Groups, gatherings, mobs … we don’t care for semantics.

We accept these youths probably don’t have a hierarchical structure or level of criminal organisation that would put them on par with outlaw motorcycle gangs, but that doesn’t mitigate their unlawful behaviour or their lack of respect for the public and police, who are called to stop them.

Our members on the ground in these hotspot areas and during events like the one we saw unfold in Taylors Hill on Wednesday are the best equipped to provide a view not clouded by bias or politics. They tell us there is a problem, they’ve seen it up close, they’ve had to don riot gear and face it, they’ve watched their police cars being damaged and windscreens smashed by large groups who don’t fear authority and who seem to gain confidence to commit crimes and act without accountability when in the company of others.

Crimes associated with this problem are often downplayed when compared to other societal crime scourges such as family violence or the ice epidemic. So, perspective is important.

Family violence and crime driven by the drug, ice, are by far the biggest challenges, in volume and human toll, that police and society face in Victoria.

That doesn’t mean this issue should, in isolation, be dismissed or downplayed. It still affects people and communities.

We believe problems like this one are left to fester and emerge, in part due to the current model of policing in Victoria.

The community relies on its police force to solve crime, but more importantly, it expects it to prevent it. The current model of police resourcing is geared towards post-crime investigation and targeted deterrence. We’ve taken resources from police stations and the frontline and shifted them to taskforces.

Why? Because in modern policing, statistics matter.

Taskforces solve crimes, and by extension, they help to increase a community’s perception of safety.

What they can’t do, largely, is prevent crime from happening in the first place in the same way that more police in stations and on patrol in communities, can. It’s not that the police are not there — it is just that if you cannot see them, criminals cannot either, removing the most effective disincentive for people to commit crime.

This is why the Police Association has called for mandatory minimum staffing in all Victorian stations and for the introduction of response times to establish staffing baselines and paint a true picture of how understaffed stations are.

We need our police to protect people, not statistics. If you’re forming an investigative taskforce, the problem you’re targeting has grown beyond your control.

By Wayne Gatt, TPAV Secretary

This editorial also appeared in the Herald Sun on Thursday, 9 August