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A law unto themselves on our streets


A law unto themselves on our streets

The Sunshine Coast has been forced to take a multi-pronged approach to tackling the current youth crime wave, but a new initiative is showing promise for stopping offenders from choosing a life of lawlessness. WORDS: Caitlin Zerafa.

Youth crime is a term plaguing the country, state and closer to home. Sadly, almost every day there is a new headline about a stolen car, abusive attack or devastating death at the hands of young offenders.

These offenders can be as young as 12 (in some cases, younger) dabbling in anything from petty crimes to robbery and assault. Hardworking police are doing the best they can with the resources they have.

Politicians are being pressured to strengthen youth justice laws and at a grassroots level. Community initiatives are working hard to prevent youth travelling down a path of crime.

On the Sunshine Coast, the tragic death of Balin Stewart outside his Buddina home in early 2022 ramped up discussions on knife and youth crime prevention. Earlier this month, the state government announced it would legislate to ban the sale of knives and replica firearms to minors.

It was one of several changes being made to address youth crime concerns, which include increasing the maximum punishment for possessing a knife in public from 12 to 18 months and potentially expanding the use of ankle monitors on children. Expanded legislation will also allow police to frisk or ‘wand’ people in Safe Night Precincts, as well as on public transport and in shopping centres.

The region’s state MPs tell My Weekly Preview that crime in their electorates is up, but that local police numbers have decreased by 322 in the past 18 months.

While it’s not the sole responsibility for local police to deal with, fewer of the force on the streets makes it harder to effectively respond to the crisis.

Speaking with MWP, the officer-in-charge of the Sunshine Coast Child Protection and Investigation Unit, Detective Senior Sergeant Kerri Della-Vedova, says officers continue to face the challenges of youth crime-related incidents.

“Youth crime is a complex social matter,” she says. “The age of youth offending can vary. However, the average age of a youth offender is between 12 to 17.

“Common offences we see juveniles involved in on the Sunshine Coast are theft offences (shop steal and steal from motor vehicles), drug offences, unlawful entries and assaults.”

Det Snr Sgt Della-Vedova says social media can negatively contribute to the cycle of offending, which has prompted police to form a team dedicated to targeting offenders online.

“New offences exist in relation to posting offending behaviour on social media,” she says.

“The Digital Intelligence and Community Engagement (DICE) team is a new online police team targeting offenders through their digital activities, assisting detectives in criminal investigations. Across Queensland, the DICE team has assisted in charging more than 140 young people … since laws passed in March 2023.”

She says because community safety is the “top priority”, local police are regularly engaging with agencies on early intervention strategies as well as effective rehabilitation.

“We have a raft of proactive enforcement, engagement and prevention strategies happening on the Sunshine Coast and in communities across the state, including high-visibility policing operation Whiskey Unison, wanding operations to reduce and prevent knife crime, and Queensland Police Service-led early intervention youth mentoring program Project Booyah.

“Youth crime is a challenging and complex matter and we will continue to work with our partner agencies to ensure we have an end-to-end system in place to tackle youth offending, including wrap-around support for our young people and a range of early intervention strategies.”

Det Snr Sgt Della-Vedova adds that most youth offenders do not re-offend once they have initial contact with the justice system.

“Intervention and rehabilitation for young offenders is crucial in breaking the cycle of crime and delivering long-term change,” she says.

She says community safety remains a shared responsibility between police and the public, and encourages residents to work with local law enforcement and report offences to police.

“Police will be out in force patrolling to protect the public and we ask residents to take steps to secure their properties and vehicles, as most opportunistic thieves will move on when cars are locked, or homes have security measures in place,” Det Snr Sgt Della-Vedova says.

With regard to Project Booyah, the Bli Bli community has come together to help boost the initiative on the Sunshine Coast.

Bli Bli Neighbourhood Watch and Parklakes Central are donating $4000 over the next two years to the project, while Bli Bli Priceline Pharmacy is donating a host of toiletry items for male and female participants.

Sunshine Coast Project Booyah coordinator Senior Constable Greg Newman says the program takes between 10 and 12 local youths every six months to reconnect disengaged teenagers with their community and transition them back into education or work.

“The program uses a variety of educational strategies not always seen in the normal school setting but these strategies have continued to produce outstanding results over the past 12 years,” Snr Const Newman says.

“We have seen enormous success in all aspects of the program, including a reduction in offending, victimisation, re-engagement in education as well as improved employment opportunities.

“At the start of the course, we often experience challenging behaviours and it’s really rewarding to see how much their demeanour changes and self-confidence increases when they graduate from the program. Project Booyah provides a unique opportunity to change perceptions and relationships between young people and police and we often see lasting relationships formed.”

Bli Bli Neighbourhood Watch area coordinator Edith Blanck has been a long-term supporter of Project Booyah and says the results speak for themselves.

“We all know about the youth crime crisis which seems to be spread across the state. This program is unique and it is getting great results. There’s no doubt these children face many challenges at home, in their communities or peer groups. It’s been wonderful to see so many participants complete the program and re-engage into further education or employment.”

My Weekly Preview contacted all seven state MPs representing the Sunshine Coast region to ask what they think needs to be done to tackle youth crime locally.

The theme among the elected representatives is that fewer police and weak youth justice laws are contributing to the youth crime crisis and that rectifying this would be a step in the right direction to improving the current situation. Here’s what they say …

Jarrod Bleijie, Member for Kawana
The Sunshine Coast isn’t immune to the Queensland crime crisis due to a cocktail of weaker laws (and) fewer police. (Since) 2015, the number of stolen cars has increased 115 per cent and assaults soared 205 per cent. The LNP has put solutions on the table to start tackling Queensland’s youth crime crisis, including creating consequences for actions, unshackling the judiciary by removing detention as a last resort and delivering gold-standard early intervention.


Brent Mickelberg, Member for Buderim

Locals are fed up with the crime infiltrating the Sunshine Coast. In my community alone, break-ins are up 79 per cent since 2015 and stolen cars up a whopping 188 per cent. Enough is enough. (We need to) rewrite the Youth Justice Act to remove ‘detention as a last resort’, put more police on the beat and provide better early intervention for young criminals. Hundreds of people have already signed my petition to upgrade the Sippy Downs Police Station to operate 24 hours.


Fiona Simpson, Member for Maroochydore

Police on the Sunshine Coast are working hard to keep our whole community safe, but they haven’t been given the resources … and are limited by the current Juvenile Justice Act. On the Sunshine Coast, I hear regular reports that there are only one or two police cars across some of our biggest towns on Friday nights and they are stretched thin. It’s time the police were properly supported, resourced and had the right laws to keep our streets safe and to be able to do their job.


Rob Skelton, Member for Nicklin

I have personally advocated for increased resources to support public safety in the region, including the Mobile Police Beat in Nambour Town Centre, to the Police Minister and Police Commissioner to ensure that our local law enforcement agencies have the necessary tools and personnel to address and prevent crime effectively. Addressing youth crime requires a multifaceted approach. It involves community engagement, intervening early to provide support for at-risk individuals, and working closely with law enforcement agencies.


Andrew Powell, Member for Glass House

(We need to prioritise) to make our communities safer, including increasing the number of police on the beat, restoring consequences for action at the heart of the Youth Justice Act, ensuring judges can impose sentences that reflect community expectations, diverting young lives from crime by funding early intervention programs and fixing the broken child safety and residential care systems to prevent vulnerable kids heading down a path of crime. You deserve to feel safe in your own home.


Dan Purdie, Member for Ninderry

I was on the frontline as a Queensland police detective on the Sunshine Coast in 2015 and I saw firsthand how (the Youth Justice Act) tipped the balance of power in favour of young repeat violent offenders. The thin blue line has never been thinner – there’s now 322 fewer police than 18 months ago. We need to give them (police officers) back the laws that were taken away from them in 2015, and the resources they need.


Jason Hunt, Member for Caloundra, was unable to provide a response prior to print.

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