Crime gangs: Facts, fiction and furphies


While Abbott threw in a couple of crime figures he knocked off from the previous day’s newspapers, the men’s assertions are flimsy at best and their level of research appears to consist of watching reruns of Zulu on late-night television.

Drums of 1,4-Butanediol seized by Victoria Police.

Drums of 1,4-Butanediol seized by Victoria Police.

Photo: Victoria Police

It is perhaps educative that they chose to make their utterances on Sydney radio, where their assertions were unlikely to be challenged, and it is entirely possible they were currying favour with that local audience rather than attempting a meaningful contribution to the debate.

The issue of law and order is squarely in Dutton’s domain, and while he has no responsibility on state matters, he has a major one on federal ones, particularly border protection. Which makes it all the more galling that while he wastes his energy on matters that are not his concern, he has been derelict on one in his own backyard. The problem is not that Dutton is too tough – it is that he is not tough enough.

Certainly in Victoria drug dealers are flooding the illicit market with the industrial solvent 1,4-Butanediol that is sold in little soy sauce containers as GHB. In three years, Victoria Police have seized 20 tonnes (6.6 million doses) with a retail value of $100 million.

If you work on the conventional figure that police seize about 10 per cent of illegal drugs, you see how big the problem has become. Detectives say ‘‘Bute’’ is now the date rape drug of choice and responsible for hundreds of overdoses.

While the state government has bumped the maximum penalty for trafficking large amounts of the drug up to life, there remains a giant loophole. It is actually not illegal to import – any drug dealer can go online and with a few clicks purchase 200-litre barrels at $7000 a pop from Chinese manufacturers.

For nearly 12 months the state government, at the request of senior police, have asked their federal counterparts to change the law to make it illegal to import Bute without a legitimate reason and still the loophole remains large enough to drive a truck (filled with drugs) through it.

So while the Feds can legitimately brag they have stopped the boats with asylum seekers on them, they have done stuff-all to stop the boats filled with 1,4-Butanediol. And make no mistake, more people are hospitalised from Bute than from being bashed by Sudanese crime gangs.

Yet while Dutton’s statement is an exaggeration, there is no doubt the public is concerned over crimes such as home invasions. The question is does the perception of risk reflect the reality of the problem?

The “cops are soft” argument fails for one obvious reason. The vast majority of these dumb and dangerous crimes are solved, with the dumb and dangerous crooks charged.

We first need to understand there are two streams of policing. There is the ‘‘Police Force’’ staffed by the hardheads in the engine room – the ones in the divisional vans, the crime squads and crowd control units. They are the ones who head to the emergencies, protect victims and lock up the baddies.

Judy Moran with Detective Senior Sergeant Stuart Bateson arriving at Melbourne Custody Centre in June 2009.

Judy Moran with Detective Senior Sergeant Stuart Bateson arriving at Melbourne Custody Centre in June 2009.

Photo: Justin McManus

Then there is the ‘‘Police Service’’ staffed by those in welfare, public relations and education. Their jobs are more touchy-feely than crash-and-bash and in that side of the job it is perfectly possible to carve out a career where the only angry man you see will be a bearded barista when he runs out of almond milk.

Enter the police representative on Victoria’s African-Australian community taskforce, Commander Stuart Bateson, a smooth mover, with a soft voice and a warm smile. He could easily be tagged as a new age cop, more classroom-educated than street-hardened.

But anyone who suggests Bateson should toughen up better do their homework, because he is one of only a handful of serving police to win the Valour Award for extreme bravery.

Rodger Corser, who played a character based on Stuart Bateson in Underbelly.

Rodger Corser, who played a character based on Stuart Bateson in Underbelly.

Photo: Supplied

In 1991, Constable Bateson was called to the Essendon railway station to track a man trying to break into cars. Despite the crook being armed with a Browning pistol, the policeman dragged him off a fence and after a life-and-death wrestle arrested the offender with the aid of two colleagues.

He was a key member of the Purana Taskforce that cracked the underworld code of silence and his character was the inspiration for the main Underbelly TV police character, Detective Senior Sergeant Steve Owen, played by Rodger Corser.

In fact, Bateson and a group of fellow Purana detectives had sly cameos in the series as a private joke, one that trial judge Betty King found less than amusing. When she watched the programs to decide whether they should be banned she was somewhat surprised to see key police investigators, not in her witness box but on her television screen.

Let’s not underestimate the consequences of the crimes now linked to these gangs. There are families that have taken to sleeping in one fortified bedroom, some victims now sleep in their street clothes and others have sold up and moved. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter about the ethnic background of the intruder brandishing the baseball bat – it is what they intend to do with it that matters.

Crime figures are used by both sides to justify their position, but be wary of any percentages where the actual number is small – for example, if one crime becomes two it is a jump of 100 per cent, but it is hardly circle-the-wagons stuff. While Sudanese are over-represented as offenders, the actual number of crimes remains small.

Internal police figures show that of Victoria’s 15,000 “serious” crimes ranging from murder, serious assaults, rape and armed robberies to carjackings, around 200 are committed by offenders of Sudanese descent – which means you are 74 times more likely to be attacked by non-Sudanese.

If there are two victims per offence, then the odds of not falling victim to Sudanese crime gangs stands at 99.9938 per cent. To put that in perspective, you are twice as likely to be bitten by a snake, five times more likely to need rescuing from drowning in the sea or 16 times more likely to suffer serious vehicle damage after hitting a kangaroo.  (Maybe we should send kangaroos back to where they came from, and don’t get me started on black snakes.)

So what do these statistics prove? Absolutely nothing, other than that you can always find a set of numbers to justify an argument.

According to Bateson, there is a Sudanese crime problem that falls well short of a crisis. ‘‘We know there is an issue and we are dealing with it – we are making more arrests than ever before – we are talking about a total of around 150 hardcore offenders.’’

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The plan is to arrest the perpetrators, let them serve a sentence, then keep them under intense supervision to try and stop them reoffending.

‘‘We want to give them the opportunity to turn their lives around,’’ says Bateson. In the Western suburbs, the number of high-risk Sudanese ‘‘Persons of Interest’’ has dropped from 100 to 63.

Bateson says this small number of dangerous black offenders has created community alarm that has led to the vilification of many. ‘‘Young African men say when they walk through a shopping centre they can see the fear in people’s eyes. Young university students say they have hopped on trains and half the passengers in the carriage get up and move.

‘‘They no longer even try to get into mainstream entertainment venues as they are always refused entry. There is a whole community that feels it is being excluded. I really don’t think that is how Melbourne works – we need to wind back some of the rhetoric.’’

Yet we do have a serious black crime problem. In Australia, an Indigenous youth is 24 times more likely to be imprisoned than the community average for that age bracket. It is a national disgrace.
Rehabilitating young offenders is not the soft option, it is the smart one. The alternative of policies driven by anger, fear, half-facts and the pursuit of headlines or votes leads to more crime and more victims – and history shows that if you shut the door on people, they eventually want to kick it down.

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