Australian Volunteers Against Crime (AVAC) Crime Watch

Much of our neighborhood and city-based crime is a direct result of drug abuse. Many of the home break-ins and car break-ins are a result of addicts looking for quick money or cashable items to pay for their next hit. Many citizens are victims of this behavior and would love to find a way to fight back to stop this predication on our citizens.

In Canberra, capital city of Australia, some citizens simply had enough of becoming victims of crime and decided to fight back. They decided they had had enough of suffering from break-ins to their offices, their cars and even their homes.

To set the scene of how a small group of seven citizens formed a civilian Crime Fighting organization, we need to study the situation that the Gorman House Arts Centre found itself in.

Gorman House Arts Centre comprises eight heritage buildings situated on a city block close to the civic centre of Canberra. The Gorman House precinct is home to about 40 art organizations. Some are famous like The Australian Choreographic Centre, The ACT Writers Centre, The Canberra Youth Theatre, Art Gallery and a host of artists. An award winning sage restaurant is also part of the complex and was a direct target of criminals seeking their takings.

When I came to work at the Art Centre as the buildings and grounds manager in 1997 I was also given the job of Security manager as I had trained in Security and was a registered security officer. When I arrived I found the tenants were in a state of siege from criminals that preyed on the organizations that worked at Gorman House.

I discovered that each year there were over seventy break-ins that occurred through windows, doors and through the tiled roof areas. There were continuous bag snatches, snatch and grabs when offenders rushed into offices and made off with valuables. There were regular drug deals centered on the several public toilet areas. And cars belonging to tenants were continually being broken into. Most weeks I was called out at night by our security company to attend new break-ins and secure the premises. Tenants were scared and frightened by this constant predication on them and the premises.

I made arrangements to meet with Federal police officers at the Civic police station. There I met a sergeant who was extremely interested in helping me attack our problem head-on. He came out to the Art Centre and I showed him around. He quickly showed he had a good understanding of what was happening and made some very astute observations and provided me with advice and suggestions as to what we would do to stop this predation on the Art Centre.

His first suggestion was to lock all toilet doors. Only tenant key holders in future would have access. This would stop the toilets from being a meeting place for drug dealers and use by addicts. The second he suggested was for us at the Art Centre to form our own undercover crime fighting organization. We approached 6 tenants who were located in strategic areas of the Centre and asked for their help. They all readily agreed to become under cover observers. They had had enough of the crime and wanted to fight back! Their job was now to observe any criminal activity such as drug dealers, addicts and vehicles used by these people. They were to take accurate descriptions of offenders, provide exact times and places these people met around the area. They were then to write up accurate and detailed Incident reports and provide them to me daily so I could record them and then send them directly to the Police Intelligence office.

The security company was also briefed and became a willing arm to our strategy. Then, almost immediately the Incident Reports started coming in, and police fielded their undercover teams. We installed a squad in strategic offices and theatres near where the offenders congregated and police officers could watch from cover what was happening.

As soon as a drug deal went down the undercover officers would slip quietly out of the observation area and grab the addicts and dealers in one swoop. In a matter of weeks the whole area quietened down. Also when ever a police patrol car was in the neighborhood they would swing around Gorman House showing a strong police presence.

In the first year of operations we reduced the crime rate down from 72 major incidents down to 35. The next year it dropped to 15 incidents. And the police had arrested 122 offenders. Most went to jail. But in the third year we began to experience, what appeared to be ‘copy cat’ break-ins. However, when the offenders were caught it was found they were previous offenders that were away in jail but had completed their sentence and had come back to continue their life of crime in the area they were most familiar with. It says something for the undercover work that we were doing that the criminals had no got on to the fact Gorman House was now a dangerous place for criminals to prey on! These re-offenders went back to jail.

Five years on, the precinct is a safe place to visit and work in. We seldom have more than three or four minor incidents a year. This is all mainly due to the brave civilian under cover crime fighters that took up the challenge and fought back.

This example can be taken up by any community that is sick and tired of being victims of criminal activity. A proactive police force, combined with citizens and a proactive security firm can beat the criminals every time.

With our growing experience in civilian crime fighting I produced a Crime Watch Manual for teaching the surveillance and observation techniques to new members and others wishing to learn. If every citizen knew these techniques and could provide several high quality leads to Police Crime Stoppers every year, crime would take a beating. We can make our workplaces and neighborhoods safe again.

What do you think?

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