Youth crime rises post-COVID in South East Queensland, police statistics show

Youth crime is making a worrying comeback after the pandemic in southeast Queensland, with police saying a small group of offenders are responsible for nearly half of crime.

Comparing the first four months of this year to the same pre-COVID period, in 2019 the illegal use of a motor vehicle against young people aged 10 to 17 increased by almost 152% in the regions of Brisbane, South East and South Queensland.

Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said the problem of young people recklessly driving stolen cars was a particularly frightening trend, putting themselves and other road users at risk.

“We are very aware of the importance of getting this under control as quickly as possible,” he said.

“They are going down a path that they may not be able to get out of.

Statistics have shown a significant increase in delinquency among minors compared to adults.

Illegal entry charges increased 77% for minors but dropped 8% for adults over the same period.

And while the number of unlawful motor vehicle charges against minors more than doubled, for adults it only increased by 4.3%.

Queensland Police Service Assistant Commissioner Steve Gollschewski speaks at the COVID-19 press conference
Queensland Police Service Assistant Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said youth crime is making a significant comeback.(ABC News: Kimberley Bernard)

Deputy Commissioner Gollschewski said that while the number of offenses committed by young people had fallen by 1% over the past five years, fewer than 400 minors were responsible for almost half of the crimes committed.

“It doesn’t make it easy, it’s complex and we have to follow the law.

“Our real focus is trying to figure out, ‘What is this really difficult group doing now, and how can we have interventions and things that can be done to try to prevent that from happening?’

“Every time we bring in new interventions, we have to continually review what we’re doing and change what we’re doing because the offending behavior changes.

“We’re certainly in that space now…with young people for example, we’re seeing an increase in illegal use, so motor vehicle theft significantly.”

“A whole lot of bad decisions”

Forest Lake resident Jason Clarke was riding his motorbike home when a car full of youths in an allegedly stolen car ran a red light, missing him by less than a yard.

Jason Clarke in front of his garage in Forest Lake.
Jason Clarke said the high-speed car then slammed into a van.(ABC News: Melanie Vujkovic )

“A car came out of nowhere at high speed, I managed to stop and miss it, I don’t know, less than a meter, and it slammed into the side of [a] van.

“The front of the van was just about missing, and they also knocked out one of the traffic lights.

A broken blue minivan with a police car with sirens on.
The front of a minivan was shattered in an accident involving minors in a stolen car, which nearly hit Mr Clarke.(Provided)

“They continued down the road and crashed into the bus stop.

“Pretty scary, a whole bunch of bad decisions.”

Kieren Johnston had just moved into his Ashgrove home when he said his car was taken from outside his house at 1am, just five days later.

Kieren Johston poses in a Brisbane Broncos jersey.
Kieren Johston, who had his car stolen in Ashgrove last month.(ABC News: Melanie Vujkovic)

He said “two children” walked towards his car after they couldn’t get into a safe house down the road.

They then racked up $4,132 in traffic fines within days.

“It cost about $30 in road tolls, so they did a good job,” he said.

Fines accumulated by young people who stole Kieren Johnson's car from a bench
The thieves racked up thousands of dollars in traffic fines in a matter of days.(ABC News: Melanie Vujkovic)

Crime down during the pandemic

Deputy Commissioner Gollschewski said young offenders take more risks to overcome advances in car safety technology.

“Instead, they break into houses to steal keys,” he said.

Two policemen stand around a teenager who is sitting in a park at night.
Street children generally come from difficult backgrounds, argues the deputy commissioner.(ABC News)

Deputy Commissioner Gollschewski said crimes like theft and violence have gone down during the pandemic, but “we’re seeing it start to return to what will be the norm post-COVID.”

Delinquency and drug use have not decreased, despite the “problems of supply” of illicit drugs.

“Those supply chains have been really disrupted in some cases. When it gets back to normal, we’ll see what that means for us,” he said.

“Of course, we’re all over it…we’re very aware of those things.”

“Changes will not happen overnight”

Deputy Commissioner Gollschewski said the Youth Justice Strategy, in place since 2019, has done its job in some problem areas like Logan, but “changes won’t happen overnight.”

“It can be a disadvantage, there can be drug use, there can be domestic and family violence.

“If we can’t fix it, we can’t reduce this offence.

“The validity of the strategy is very strong because you’re not going to solve this problem by getting away with it by the police, just arresting kids and putting them in jail.”

Queensland Police Assistant Commissioner Steve Gollschewski speaks at a press conference
Queensland Police Assistant Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said specialist policing was working on youth gangs.(ABC News: Michael Lloyd)

He said one of the main results of the strategy for the most serious offenders was to see more support from the justice system regarding objections to bail.

“Thus, young people who pose the greatest risk to the community are kept in detention longer,” he said.

He said that since July 1 last year, 11,347 supervision and bail checks had been carried out and more than 15,000 interactions with repeat offenders.

“These are very large numbers, especially when it comes to small cohorts of people, young people who commit a lot of offences,” he said.

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