Crime controversy in Geraldton

By PETA KINGDON:

The debate continues as to whether crime rates in Geraldton have risen or if the convergence of social media and online media is making the community more aware. Some say crime rates haven’t changed while others say crime rates have increased immensely, but what’s the real truth?
Located 400km north of Perth, the windy city of Geraldton has come under much scrutiny lately with the community voicing their concerns over the amount of crime they are experiencing. Police and local government say crime rates have not changed while some of the community disagree and have rallied together for more policing and tougher penalties. Others have argued that with online and social media, the community is now more aware of what is happening and in fact crime hasn’t risen, it is just in our faces everyday.

The real controversy started in the 2013/2014 Christmas and New Year break with countless reports of crime occurring. Over the holiday period there was a lot of talk concerning crime in Geraldton being on the rise with plenty of people voicing their opinions on social media. During this time the local online media organisation, Everything Geraldton, was inundated with reports from the community about crime with everything from vandalism, break-ins and thefts. While many members of the public expressed gratitude at being kept up to date with the information, others blamed social media for making it appear crime had increased when in fact it had not. As the influx of crime reports continued, so did the community’s frustration.

With many wanting a change, a local community group ‘Geraldton Residents Demand Our Streets Back’ was created. More than 2,000 people joined the Facebook group and banded together in a bid against local crime. ‘Geraldton Residents Demand Our Streets Back’ organized a march through the Geraldton city centre to have their stance on the crime issue, group leader Rod Moat led the march saying it was time for the community to make a stand.
“We want judges to come down harder on the perpetrators,” he said, “we’re here to make Geraldton a safer place to live.” Geraldton MLA Ian Blayney attended the march and said he was there to listen and to help. “We have to work with police on the issue, we can’t do it alone,” he said. Within weeks of the march, Police Minister Liza Harvey was in Geraldton and held a forum with local residents so she could hear their concerns.

Despite the community’s frustration, City of Greater Geraldton Mayor Ian Carpenter denied reports that crime is out of control in an ABC article. After meeting with Geraldton police, Mayor Carpenter stated crime statistics do not appear to have risen and criminal activity has been much the same as in any other community. “There are certain classes of crime which may have increased but I’m confident that our local police are doing a great job,” he said. “The statistics I’ve seen show that Geraldton isn’t really different to any other community in WA.” Mayor Carpenter urged people in the community to be weary about what they say on social media. “So if you’re going to say these things on social media, then people need to be aware that sometimes what is being said is simply incorrect.”

Statistics, heavily contradict Mayor Carpenter’s statement that crime rates haven’t risen. Compared to November 2013, burglaries in the Mid West were a staggering 3.7 times higher in January 2014. The figure is also double that of January 2013. Official statistics made available by the Western Australian Police, revealed that burglaries in the Mid West peaked in the holiday months with December experiencing 94 home burglaries and January with 191 home burglaries. This number was considerably higher than the November figures where there were 51 home burglaries. It is also the highest number of home burglaries in a January since 2002 where there were 198. General theft including motor vehicle theft were also higher during this period.

Although Mayor Carpenter was right in saying it wasn’t much different to other regions within the Mid West, the South West, Pilbara, Kimberley, South East Metropolitan, all had rises in total offences against the person from December 2013-January 2014. When comparing total offences against the person from 1999 to 2014, it has progressively gotten higher with this financial year being at a high 1982 total offences, keeping in mind that this will increase due to the fact that the financial year hasn’t ended. The second highest total after this financial year occurred in 2012/13 with the total of 1, 594 offences, which is a huge difference and this 2013/14 financial year has bypassed any total in the last 14 years. The lowest total of offences starting in 1999 was in the 1999/2000 financial years with a total of 988. In 14 years, total crime offences have risen to nearly 1,000 more And when looking at the statistics there is a steady rise in the totals.

Geraldton Police were not oblivious to the sharp rise in crime and were quick to implement ‘Operation Nighthawk’ to target specific persons of interest. Supervisor of the Geraldton Police, Volume Crime Team Sergeant Jayd Morawski, stated that the police had been working overtime to see these results. “The guys in the station are working as hard as they possibly can,” he said, “they have been literally chasing offenders to see these outcomes come to fruition. We’ve responded to what the community have said and we are doing our utmost to get offenders off the street.”

Operation Nighthawk began on January 28 2014, and after the commencement of the successful operation, the statistics speak for themselves. So far the operation has achieved significant results with positive Police action addressing burglary and related offences within the Geraldton sub-district. A total of 33 individuals have been apprehended and charged with 169 volume crime offences.

The offence breakdown for those persons charged is:

-37 counts of Aggravated Burglary and Commit offence.
-7 counts of Burglary and Commit offence.
-36 counts of Steal Motor Vehicle.
-50 counts of Stealing.
-39 counts of other offences including Possess Prohibited Drug with Intent to Sell/ Supply, Receiving, Criminal Damage and numerous Trespassing.

Of the 33 individuals charged, 14 are current PPOS and account for nearly 60 per cent of offences committed. Sergeant Morawski, said it was important for people to be aware and take the necessary precautions to prevent crime. “Geraldton isn’t the Geraldton of the 80’s, the world has changed,” he said, “the biggest thing people can do is lock up and be vigilant. Lock up your cars and homes. Crooks know how to look for apathy and it’s a free kick for them.”

Along with Operation Nighthawk, both the Geraldton Police and the City of Greater Geraldton have worked together to implement things to prevent crime. The Geraldton Police’s Crime Prevention Department within Community Law & Safety has been expanding the Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) network throughout the City. Currently Geraldton has 57 CCTV cameras, including external cameras in the community and internal coverage within council buildings. Community Law & Safety Team Leader, Neryl Beer said the CCTV cameras were responding to the needs of the community. “Community Law & Safety has a strong focus on the needs and expectations of residents throughout the City of Greater Geraldton and believes that a safe and secure community leads to individual wellbeing and social growth,” she said. “So while there may be the feeling of ‘Big Brother Watching’, there is an undeniable advantage gained by having CCTV in our lives. “CCTV expansion enhances public safety and security and the cameras allow constant monitoring to deter and in some cases prevents anti-social or criminal activity.”

In a bid to keep the community informed, police have ramped up their online presence. The Police in conjunction with the City of Greater Geraldton have released ewatch, which is an online communication opportunity that local police in Geraldton can utilise to talk to the community. The benefit of ewatch is the community can register and receive emails direct from Geraldton Police Station with up to date incidents that are happening in the community, crime alerts, community safety warnings or general safety.

The statistics speak for themselves concerning crime has increased in Geraldton. Of course there are many downsides with the community continuing to feel frustrated and scared in their own community but there are also upsides. Both the police and the council are working together for crime prevention. The Geraldton Police’s Operation Nighthawk has been pivotal within the community and giving people a sense of safety and that something is being done. The implementation of more CCTV cameras within the CBD as well as ewatch is showing that the police and the council are willing to make changes and implement different motions to help prevent crime statistics. It is hard to make a conclusion as to whether crime statistics will decrease, However? many other regions throughout Western Australia have experienced the same thing so Geraldton isn’t alone.

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