Opinions divided over regional crime prevention

A PLAN to address regional crime has divided opinion across the state, with various stakeholders arguing it goes too far, or not far enough.

New research from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) exploring crime patterns in regional NSW shows that in 2023, the rate of property crime in regional NSW was 59 percent higher than in Sydney while the rate of violent crime in regional NSW was 57 percent higher.

“A long standing feature of crime in NSW is that regional, rural, and remote locations tend to experience higher rates of crime than in the city,” BOCSAR Executive Director Jackie Fitzgerald said.

“The gap has grown over time.

“Since 2004, crime reductions in Sydney greatly exceeded those in the regions.

“Within regional NSW, crime is also not evenly distributed and particular regional locations show crime rates are much higher than the state average.

“In 2023, rates of both violent and property crime were almost three times the NSW average in the Far West and Orana region.”

While crime is higher in regional NSW than in Sydney, it is not the case that crime is necessarily increasing.

In regional NSW, most property crimes were considerably lower in 2023 compared to 2004.

Certain offences however, have increased significantly in regional NSW over the five years from 2019 to 2023.

Motor vehicle theft is up 20 percent, while domestic assault is up 24 percent and non-domestic assault is up fourteen percent.

Sexual assault is up 47 percent, which equates to an additional 1505 incidents.

Last week, the NSW Government announced a package of reforms and initiatives to “support community safety and wellbeing”, particularly in regional NSW, with a focus on strengthening early intervention and prevention programs for young people.

The Bail Act 2013 will be amended to include a temporary additional bail test for young people between fourteen and eighteen charged with committing certain serious break and enter offences or motor vehicle theft offences while on bail for the same offences.

This means that a bail authority such as police, magistrates and judges will need to have a high degree of confidence that the young person will not commit a further serious indictable offence while on bail.

This approach is designed to stop specific offending behaviour by certain young people who repeatedly engage in serious break and enter and motor theft offences.

The amendments will be subject to a twelve-month sunset clause so that any future action or changes can be made with evidence to assess the efficacy of the new laws.

Legislation will also be introduced which creates a new offence in the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) for ‘posting and boasting’.

An additional penalty of two years imprisonment will be imposed on people who commit motor vehicle theft or break and enter offences and share material to advertise their involvement in this criminal behaviour.

Statewide there have been reports of an emerging phenomenon of offenders posting recordings of their offending behaviour on social media, particularly in relation to motor vehicle offending.

This type of ‘performance crime’ may encourage others, specifically young people, to engage in similar criminal behaviour.

This new provision will be the subject of a statutory review that will take place two years after it commences.

The Government also announced specific measures to improve public safety in Moree, and a range of state-wide regional crime prevention initiatives including an expansion of Youth Action Meetings (YAMs) in nine Police Districts and an expansion of the Safe Aboriginal Youth Patrol Program (SAY) to an additional five Closing the Gap (CTG) priority locations.

“I’ve spoken to mayors, police area commanders and local communities who have said we need to do more when it comes to crime rates, so that’s what we’re doing,” NSW Premier Chris Minns said.

“We know there is no easy solution but the reforms we are announcing today look at the big picture at a whole-of-community level, to really intervene and help prevent crime and give young people a chance at life.

“We will not leave regional communities behind, and we will ensure regional communities are safe and appealing places to work, live and raise a family.

“We need to work across government – police, schools, mental health – and importantly in partnership with community leaders, Aboriginal organisations and NGOs.”

Member for Oxley Michael Kemp hit out at Labor’s regional crime package this week, labelling it as a knee-jerk reaction which lacks key details and ignores rising rates of crime on the Mid North Coast.

“The government’s package might be good for Moree, but what about our region and the rest of the country NSW suffering rising rates of youth crime?” Mr Kemp said.

“It just displays once again how this government has no understanding of regional areas and doesn’t care to do so.

“More than half of the funding is addressing issues in one community and ignoring the rest.”

Mr Kemp pointed out that in Kempsey, juvenile offenders committing assault have jumped by 55.3 percent over two-years, while incidents of malicious damages to property have risen by 113.6 percent.

In 2023, there were 150 incidents of theft, including 36 motor vehicle thefts and 51 break and enters in a dwelling.

Member for Coffs Harbour Gurmesh Singh agreed Labor’s package does “not go far enough”, and called on local residents to provide feedback on how regional crime has affected them at https://www.nswnationals.org.au/regional-crime/.

“Our hardworking frontline police officers do a great job day in and day out and they are doing everything they can to keep our communities safe,” said Mr Singh, Shadow Minister for Tourism, Emergency Services and the North Coast.

“However, there is a feeling that they’re being let down by a justice system that is often too soft on repeat offenders.”

Mr Singh welcomed this week’s announcement of an inquiry into regional and rural crime, something which the Coalition has been calling for in recent months.

“We expect this to be a whole-of-government approach to the escalating crime crisis in our regions.

“The Premier and the Police Minister finally appear to be listening and have announced this much-needed inquiry.

“However, because it will take some time for the inquiry to come up with solutions, we want to know what measures the Government will put in place in the interim to help regional residents grappling with crime right now.”

NSW Farmers Rural Affairs Committee spokesman Garry Grant said the new reforms had come as welcome news to regional communities as socioeconomic disadvantage deepened and rural crime rates soared.

“These young offenders are often violent and reckless in their behaviour, and they are also costing landholders and businesses millions of dollars every year, through both loss of goods and increased insurance costs,” Mr Grant said.

“This behaviour of stealing cars or breaking into homes and businesses and then sharing these exploits on social media is extremely concerning, and there needs to be more severe consequences if we want to reduce crime and curb the harm caused by repeat offenders.”

With city dwellers now less likely to be a victim of crime than those living in the bush, Mr Grant said rural and regional NSW needed all the resources available to shift the dial on crime moving forward.

“We need boots on the ground and real, considered initiatives in place to combat these rising rates of crime, and concerningly violent crime, in rural and regional areas of the state, or else the problem will simply spiral beyond the point of no return.”

On Monday, a range of organisations across Australia united to call on the NSW Premier to scrap the plans which they believe will result in putting more children in jail.

Two open letters were distributed to the media, one from 60 civil society groups and another from over 500 academics, lawyers and community workers.

The civil society groups’ letter said the State Government’s new measures were a betrayal of Closing the Gap commitments and ignore “decades of evidence on how to reduce youth crime”.

The co-signed argue the measures prioritise punishment over investment in proven prevention strategies and will “cause crime to get worse” and “delay measures that could reduce crime”.

The second open letter, co-signed by legal practitioners, community workers and academics working across the fields of law, criminology, social sciences and Indigenous studies, outlines concerns that the proposed laws will make it harder for young people aged fourteen to seventeen to be released on bail for certain offences.

“We support the Premier’s goal to improve community safety and wellbeing and strengthen early intervention initiatives.

“The proposed laws however will have the opposite effect.

​”The evidence tells us that such laws do not make communities safer and in fact exacerbate the social drivers of young people’s contact with the justice system,” the letter read.

Report regional crime to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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