Toddler’s tears show real effect of Townsville’s crime epidemic
IT’S heartbreaking to watch.
A traumatised toddler cries and wails, clinging to his mother.
“Th-th-the, the bad people, the house,” he chokes. “My car. Th-they took, m-my car.”
The heartbreaking scene followed a robbery in the north-eastern Queensland city of Townsville, where incidents like this are all too common.
The boy’s mother, who told news.com.au she did not want to be identified, chose to share the video of her son after the family’s home in the suburb of Rasmussen had been broken into and their car — along with a number of important documents — was stolen.
It was seeing a picture sent to his father that showed the boy’s car seat lying on the roadside after apparently being thrown from the car, that set him off.
“I want to reach out to those bastard criminals (and show them) the effect of what they have done to us,” the boy’s mother said. “I’m hoping they can see this and still have even a little conscience.”
The damaged vehicle was recovered and documents found dumped in the bin of a nearby property, but the thieves haven’t been caught.
Townsville is a youth crime and vehicle theft hotspot, and it’s getting worse.
Most of the crime is opportunistic and offenders are largely between the ages of 12 and 25. Drugs, alcohol and domestic violence are significant contributing factors as are mental health issues.
As of yesterday, the number of break-ins had increased in the city by 33 per cent year on year, and car thefts were up 17 per cent for the same period.
In the past five days alone a woman was hit in the face with a glass cup and two cars were rammed in a road rage incident involving a stolen car, a group of kids allegedly smashed their way into a bike store causing thousands of dollars in damage, and a trio of teenagers were charged after days of alleged stolen-car joy riding.
The city’s crime epidemic has left its residents afraid and fearing for their safety. As one resident put it, the toddler’s tears show “how we all feel”.
Rasmussen resident Linda says she’s had her unit broken into twice, one car stolen, and claims earlier this month the back window of her station wagon was smashed in with a two-by-four.
The 50-year-old, who has lived in Townsville for almost 20 years, says she’s had enough.
“It’s just really scary and it seems to get worse,” she told news.com.au.
“The third night after I moved into my unit was the scariest one. I heard a noise and there was a young man standing with a knife trying to cut through the security door, then I heard banging and trying to break in through to the garage.
“The stolen cars are getting worse. One was dumped out the back of my unit and I didn’t even know until the police came and knocked on the door.
“You sit and have your coffee in the night and you can hear the cars roaring around the streets — stolen vehicles. It’s only a matter of time before someone is really badly hurt.”
Kelso resident Jade Murphy, 25, was shocked to return to her vehicle parked in a city car park one night this month to see its windscreen smashed in and bonnet dented when a thick metal signpost still attached to its concrete base was dropped onto the car.
“You hear about kids going around stealing cars and going around vandalising but it wasn’t until this happened to me that I was really shocked and I start to think maybe I should move,” she said.
“It always crosses my mind that people might come into my house and steal my keys and take the car, and when I go and park somewhere now I always make sure it out in the open. That’s just something I feel now and I won’t go out to some places because of what’s happened.
“Lucky this is only a minor thing, but who knows what can happen next.”
Townsville’s crime levels, particularly involving young offenders, led to the establishment of a dedicated taskforce-style policing unit in 2014.
Last week it was announced Rapid Action Patrol (RAP) unit would be expanded with an additional 20 officers added to the unit of 25 over the next four years.
RAP Commander Inspector Joe Kitching admits the new recruits are needed, but says Townsville’s crime problems aren’t any worse than other regional cities in the state.
He’s not able to put his finger on why, but says for some reason Townsville residents have been more vocal about the city’s crime and concerns about their safety, and have demanded action.
“Rates of offending in Townsville unfortunately is no different to what we see across Queensland, but the community agitation is real here in Townsville and rightly so because they want to feel protected and lead a normal life,” Insp Kitching said.
“It’s certainly not as if every house in Townsville has been broken into, but the issue has really escalated through social media.
“People have had enough. People have had enough of the offending and have really demonstrated that there were some issues around their personal safety.”
The community reaction and the prevalence of crime have led to not only more focused policing but also a multi-agency approach to curbing crime and setting offenders on a different path.
The Townsville Stronger Communities Action Group, a state government initiative which combines seven agencies including the youth justice, child safety and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnerships, works alongside police to address the problem of youth crime.
“Police will always do what police do and arrest offenders, but will never arrest their way out of a situation,” Insp Kitching said.
“Arresting people all the time is not going to change behaviour so what we need is services in place to help them come away from a life of offending and meet community expectations.
“That means going to school and getting an education, getting a job, earning a living, becoming productive members of society through work, raising a family, getting away from a life of drugs and alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Police will always arrest offenders but this support from other agencies is what’s going to really make the difference.”
Though Townsville’s crime rates are going up, they’re not increasing with the magnitude police were expecting.
“We still have some offending problems but not the offending that we were having,” Insp Kitching said.
“At the back end of last year you were seeing quite significant offending. Up to 10 vehicles stolen in a shift, not every day. Whereas at the moment we’d see even none on some days or up to four or five some other nights.”
The community is fed up and clearly frustrated, but police are optimistic they’re on the right track to making Townsville a better place to live.
“We’re not naive to think we’re always going to have offenders in society,” Insp Kitching said.
“But we can certainly engage with those people a lot better now more than we’ve had the opportunity to do before with the support of agencies and the community.
“We’re trying to change the behaviour of young and vulnerable offenders.”