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23 June, 2021

Enough is enough

NEVER has the issue of juvenile and youth crime created more headlines, remained in the public spotlight or impacted our local region and more broadly, the country, as much it has over the past six months.

By Michael Warren

Mareeba Police Station Senior Sergeant and Officer-in-Charge Derek Garner believes early intervention is one measure to combat juvenile and youth crime.

NEVER has the issue of juvenile and youth crime created more headlines, remained in the public spotlight or impacted our local region and more broadly, the country, as much it has over the past six months. 

Almost every other day Mareeba, Atherton and Tablelands residents wake up to images and reports of local vandalism, graffiti, burglaries, home invasions, break-ins, assaults, car thefts, police chases and all types of crimes – in a lot of instances – committed by juveniles or hardcore youth-based off enders. Of course, the issue isn’t just specific to our region. 

On Australia Day this year Australia’s collective heart shattered when Brisbane couple Matthew Field, Kate Leadbetter and their unborn baby were hit and killed by a 17-year-old allegedly driving a stolen car. 

Just weeks later 22-year-old motorcyclist Jennifer Board was hit and killed by a car that allegedly veered onto the wrong side of the road on the streets of Townsville. 

The vehicle was occupied by several teenagers at the time and the incident broke further hearts across Far North Queensland. 

More locally, the line in the sand moment about the urgent need to find answers to combat juvenile crime came when a manic three-day crime spree involving a 15-year old Atherton male and a 16-year-old White Rock resident in late January shocked the Tablelands and Cairns communities. 

 The spree ended when the duo eventually crashed a stolen vehicle directly into a Police car in the back streets of Edmonton. 

However, not before 72 hours of total anarchy that consisted of countless violet robberies, assaults, thefts, obstructing police and threatening an 89 year-old Atherton woman with a screwdriver while she ate breakfast. 

Just days ago Mareeba residents awoke to the cenotaph and parts of Centenary Park having been graffitied and vandalised while the Atherton girl guides building and tennis club have both experienced break and enters over the past few days. 

So, the spate of crimes committed by youth and juvenile off enders around our region has raised the question; what is being done about it? What’s the answer? Is the matter being treated as a matter of priority by the appropriate bodies?In this special Express report journalist Michael Warren investigates where the matter stands with the major newsmakers across the region.

Tablelands youth crime epidemic

 In recent weeks crimes thought to be committed by youths and juveniles across Tablelands communities have been out of control. 

As The Express discovered our region’s Police officers are just angered as local juveniles continue to thumb their nose at the law. 

“In relation to the cenotaph, and the (recent) graffiti of that, I think it’s absolutely disgusting that anyone would want to damage anything like that,” Detective Senior Sergeant and Officer-in-Charge of The Tablelands CIB Brett Devine told The Express. 

 “That particular matter has been appropriately dealt with, with offenders located, interviewed and charged. They will go to court at a later date. 

“This (responding to youth and juvenile crime) is an everyday issue for Police on the Tablelands, across Queensland and in-particular plain clothes (Police) staff , tasked with the overall investigation and prosecution of these kids - it’s not a simple process.” 

Another local law enforcer is equally frustrated about recent youth crime trends in the area. 

“It’s very disappointing when we see graffiti plastered all over the public toilets of the CWA and particularly at extremely important local places, like the cenotaph, Mareeba Police Station Officer-In Charge Derek Garner admitted to The Express. 

“It does, it makes you angry to see it happen to a monument like that, I said to some people who were sitting on the monument at the time, it’s similar to people going and desecrating peoples’ graves.” 

Mareeba’s mayor Angela Toppin said it’s only that small 10% element that appears to be reoffending across the community. 

“I am always extremely disappointed with the disrespect that is shown to public and private property by those who commit acts such as these (cenotaph vandalism),” Ms Toppin told The Express. 

“The problem seems to be escalating and action needs to be taken by the relevant authorities or it will continue to escalate. “Given my past in the education industry, where I worked with youth for 42 years, I know that young people have so much potential and it is pleasing that the vast majority of young people make positive contributions to our community every day.” 

The complex nature of Juvenile offending 

On the surface, the answer seems easy. If a juvenile repeatedly offends, the most common public reaction and sentiment is for Police to lock them up and keep them behind bars – but for the hard-working officers, detectives and law enforcement personnel on the front line the process is never that easy. 

There’s a procession of red tape, regulations and rulings governing what Police can and can’t do which may create a perception they aren’t and don’t do everything to regularly catch and charge repeat hardcore youth off enders – when in fact – they are and they do. 

“A child when located, they have to be interviewed, if they will, in fact, speak to police, that in itself is problematic,” Mr Devine revealed to The Express. 

“There’s generally other potential witnesses to be interviewed (after an off ender has been taken into custody), so that’s also a difficult process, because they are children. 

“People have a (general) perception that Police grab a kid, and they just go (straight) to court, well there is a whole lot of work in-between the two – I mean hours and hours and hours (of work).

“Having a child held in custody is nothing short of an ordeal for plain clothes officers, it’s a very involved process, there has to be legitimate grounds for a child to be kept in custody, it’s not a simple process. 

 “More broadly from a local perspective I don’t think the general public are completely aware just how many off enders we continue to charge and bring before the courts. 

“The whole picture I don’t think is shown to the public about just how much work we are doing and continue to do around juvenile and youth off ending. 

“We’re doing everything that we can; every detective would hate that some of these juvenile off enders are targeting the elderly, which they do, we know that - those facts are brought up in the court process, we hate that. 

“We live here as well, some of us have parents in the community, it’s not as though we’re ignorant of that fact, for sure.”

 Community sentiment and reaction 

The effects of juvenile and youth offending can have far reaching and ongoing impacts. 

One recent incident left a Mareeba mum of two scared to be in her own home after dark. 

“Honestly, I feel for everyone in this town,” local mother Holly Bolton declared. 

“Not just the elderly. I was home alone the other night with two very young kids when someone (an intruder) entered my house. 

 “They walked past (the) car keys, cigarettes and alcohol bottles. “No idea what their intentions were, but as a young mum, it has left me terrified to be in my own home.” 

Ms Bolton said she fully supports local Police efforts to stem youth crime but, like many feels let down, more broadly, by the court and legal systems. 

“It's a sad world. (The) QPS do an amazing job, it's our justice system that lets us down. 

 “There's no actual punishment for these off enders and victims are left scared in their own homes. 

Offenders are left to do it over and over again.”   

The million-dollar question – what is the best solution to fix and manage youth and juvenile crime? 

Everyone has a theory; some suggest extreme bail conditions, others recommend Indigenous led rehabilitation programs while a section of the community feels imposing serious penalties on juvenile off enders will act as a strong deterrent to committing crimes. 

Close to a month ago The Express asked Member for Hill Shane Knuth what he considered was the best way to solve this issue – he was steadfast with his response then, and he remained just as adamant on this occasion; his reaffirmed solution – relocation sentencing. 

Mr Knuth said it was clear the State Government’s changes to the Youth Justice Laws was a failure from the beginning as it never went far enough to stamp out juvenile crime. 

“This is why the KAP introduced amendments in the parliament including our own petition to re-introduce breach of bail as an offence, revoke the clause that a youth off ender should be detained in custody for an offence as a last resort and, most importantly, give Magistrates the power to relocate repeat juvenile off enders to remote locations to help rehabilitate them and act as a deterrent,” Mr Knuth said. 

“Crime is a pressing issue. It was once more concentrated in the major centres but is now becoming more prevalent on the Tablelands and in regional communities. 

“We are constantly monitoring crime and many constituents have been raising their concerns. 

“I will continue to bring these issues up in parliament in an effort to reduce juvenile crime.” 

Mr Devine, meanwhile, said he and his colleagues can’t control what happens at a child’s (or potential off ender’s) home, but they can work towards eradicating Juvenile crime from local communities. 

“Youth crime is not a one organisation issue,” Mr Devine explained.

 “The problem (youth offending) is not just one issue; it’s a variety of issues, from their home lives – which are certainly less than perfect, we, as police, can’t control that - that is a societal issue. 

“Their education – we have no control over that, if they, in fact, even go to school; their employment – we have no control over that. 

“What we have control over is when an offence is committed (that) we investigate that offence and put it before the judiciary - that’s our involvement, which I think we do particularly well.” 

Mareeba Mayor Angela Toppin suggested a collaborative approach is a potential option to tackle the issue. 

“I believe that a great eff ort is being put into the interagency approach to solving the problem of youth and juvenile crime matters and that this strategy must continue in order to maximise positive outcomes,” Ms Toppin said. 

“Local community-led solutions and responses are important, but they will deliver better outcomes if they are part of a well-coordinated, well resourced state and national approach.” 

Mareeba Police Station Officer-In-Charge Derek Garner believes early intervention remains one key measure in preventing juvenile and youth led driven crime. 

“There’s no, one single silver bullet for this issue, that I know of,” Mr Garner said honestly. 

“In a general sense parents and guardians should be ensuring their kids are going to school because kids that are going to school aren’t going to be committing offences during the day. 

 “People should ensure that if they see or notice a child falling behind (or lacking) with care, they should report it there and then so the agencies that intervene can do so at an early stage and not wait until they are already well entrenched in the justice system.” 

Member for Cook Cynthia Lui said she continues to take the issue of youth crime prevention very seriously. 

“The Mareeba community like all Queenslanders deserve to be safe in their homes, workplaces and communities,” Ms Lui said. 

“I share in the community’s displeasure of criminal activity and it breaks my heart to hear the victims’ stories and to see senseless acts of vandalism and graffiti. 

“Youth crime is an issue I take very seriously, which is why I supported the introduction of tough new laws last month – which include a trial of electronic monitoring, and presumption against bail for young off enders arrested for committing further serious indictable offences while on bail. 

“I also support the interventions the Department of Youth Justice is funding in our community, including through the PCYC and have provided donations to support the initiatives of the Mareeba PCYC.”  

 COMMENT: Michael Warren 

Let’s support and unite behind our officers  

AS I walked in to discuss juvenile and youth crime matters with Mareeba Police and investigators for this week’s special crime report I honestly didn’t know what to expect. 

Would I encounter local officers and detectives with intentions to downplay and deny the juvenile and youth crime epidemic issue that currently exists within their communities? 

Not in the slightest. After 10 minutes with Mareeba Police station Officer-in-Charge Derek Garner and Detective Senior Sergeant Brett Devine I quickly sensed these were two decent, matter-of-fact, hardworking men, who are proud of their community and feel just as disappointed about the recent spate and surge in juvenile and youth led crimes across the region. 

It’s a typical scenario; the public sees a young off ender commit a crime. The police nab the youth and within a day the same off ender is back committing crimes. 

 It’s the easy view to blame or criticize the Police, when in fact, they are working around the clock and as hard as ever to blunt the effects of juvenile and youth crime across the Tablelands. 

It would be beyond frustrating for Police to work so hard, catch off enders and see them back on the streets the following day. 

We must remember, too, that sometimes their hands are simply tied and at times, there is only so much they can do. I left the interview confident and content that people like Mr Garner and Mr Devine continue to do their best on the frontline to serve and protect their community each day. 

Instead of criticising, we should support and rally behind our local Police officers so we can assist them in any way to bring a halt to, and dent, juvenile and youth crime. 

 As a region we must stand together as one; we need to unite with the Police to stamp out the types of crimes and behaviours we are regularly seeing throughout the Tablelands. 

In compiling this special report, I’ve spent time gaining a genuine feel and sense of the public sentiment and worry that currently exists around this issue. 

During this time the public have been proactive and put forward ideas about how they feel the issue could be handled and managed. 

 These include implementing a community volunteer neighborhood action plan, night curfews, increased plain clothed police patrols, increased CCTV/ security on public streets, disciplinarian bootcamps and increased parent accountability. 

Wherever the right answer may sit, one thing is for sure; we need to stand with our Police, galvanise together as a region and stamp out juvenile and youth crime – for good  

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