Victoria Police have established a community taskforce with African-Australian leaders to tackle youth crime, amid what the Chief Commissioner has described as an increase in public disorder and misbehaviour.
The taskforce will meet for the first time on Friday and is supported by senior African leaders in Melbourne.
Returning from a period of sick leave following a fatigue-related illness, Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said he had met with community leaders to discuss how African-Australian youth crime had changed in recent times.
Chief Commissioner Ashton said the force had been dealing with home invasions and car-jackings for some time, and generally “catching the offenders quickly”.
“What’s changed over and above that … has been an increase in public disorder and public behaviour, misbehaviour in public by groups of young people,” he said.
“That’s been a bit different to what we’ve been dealing with.
“We’ve had a number of instances where we had to call out our public order response teams.
“There’s been plenty of footage in the media of recent times with that occurring. That’s probably changed a bit.”
African community receiving death threats
Victoria Police said the taskforce would assist law enforcement by:
- Providing information to police on emerging issues and hot spots, allowing police to act swiftly
- Establishing a more efficient channel for police to engage with African-Australian leaders and provide advice on how they can assist in preventing youth crimes and antisocial behaviour
- Providing police with information on incidents of racial vilification and other hate crimes aimed at African Australians
Assistant Commissioner Andrew Crisp said the third element of the taskforce was necessary due to threats being made to law-abiding members of the African community.
“I know [that] a number of people here today and others in the community have been subjected … to death threats,” he said.
“I think it’s really important this community has the opportunity to connect with Victoria Police to look at how best we can protect the community, how we can investigate these matters, if it’s to do with racial vilification or hate crimes.”
African-Australian Kot Monoah said the media coverage of the issue in recent weeks had negatively affected a broad range of community members.
“Yesterday we were at Eagle Stadium in Werribee,” he said.
“We saw a young person from an African community coaching young people and someone approached [and said] ‘if you ever touch my child, we’re going kill you’.
“The other incident is … a group of young people who are doing very well at university saying ‘we don’t have a chance with the sorts of reporting that is happening. We’d better move overseas … where this sort of coverage is not there’.”
Dutton’s concerns ‘complete and utter garbage’: Ashton
Crime committed by African youth has received nationwide media attention in recent weeks, after Federal MP Greg Hunt described African gang crime as being “out of control” in Melbourne.
His comments came after several recent headline-grabbing crimes which were blamed on groups of young African men, including the trashing of an Airbnb property in Werribee and the repeated destruction of a community centre in Tarneit.
They were followed by similar concerns voiced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, who claimed Melburnians were too frightened to dine out because of the problem.
But Chief Commissioner Ashton described claims that Victoria was not a safe place to live as “complete and utter garbage”.
“There are people being affected by crime, and that’s always been the case and it’s the same in every city in Australia …, [but] Victoria is one of the safest places in the world to live,” he said.
“The concept that somehow it’s unsafe to go out of dinner … I think everyone in this room would go out places for dinner, I don’t think anyone’s sitting with the sheets cowering over their heads.
He acknowledged that people were concerned by what they had read and seen on the issue but said the crime rate in Victoria was actually going down.
“I don’t think it’s a crisis … I think if you put it into context you’ve got a few hundred offenders engaging in offending in a city of 4.5 million people,” he said.
“If you look across the totality of the Victorian crime situation, the last two quarters we’ve reduced total crime in the state. We’re continuing to do that.”
‘Street gang behaviour’, not organised gangs
Chief Commissioner Ashton said Victoria Police would continue to take a “zero-tolerance” approach to youth offending, which he said was often the result of complex issues of social disadvantage and unemployment.
“We will continue to make arrests, we will continue to investigate and crack down on criminal behaviour, like we have been doing,” he said.
But he reiterated that while police were describing the incidents as “street gang behaviour”, the force did not consider the crimes as being committed by “structured, organised gangs” of people.
“What this is, it’s young people coming together, networking through social media, coming together and engaging in criminal activity,” he said.
“It’s much more loosely organised than many might think in that regard. I think that’s the point — it’s not structured and organised, like a bikie gang or other gangs in Victoria.”
Community leader Richard Deng also criticised politicians for using the term “African gangs”.
“We love to call them gangs, African gangs, and the majority of these kids are born here, they’re bloody Australian. Let’s call them that way.”
Young Africans’ ‘racially profiled’
Mr Monoah acknowledged there were behavioural issues some young people, often compounded by the use of drugs and alcohol, that needed tackling.
“These sorts of issues, it is our duty and responsibility as a society to address them without obviously mixing them with politics or without mixing them with any other messaging,” he said.
He said a number of young people had been racially profiled in shopping centres and parks as a result of the recent attention to the issue.
“It impacts on a number of law-abiding, innocent people,” he said.
Mr Deng also called on politicians and the media not to divide the community over the issue.
“I would like to say again to the politicians — it is time you join hands with the community, engage, let’s put politics aside and work together,” he said.
“Using crime for political gain is not acceptable. As a community, we call on all politicians to work with us, work with Victoria Police, as a way forward.”