Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Do something Barry - time to apply the fear factor

Tim Priest | The Daily Telegraph | April 24, 2012

LAST Monday Sydney awoke to the news that there had been five drive-by shootings during the night with both houses and business premises targeted. On Friday, there was another.

These shootings brought the tally to 20 incidents since the beginning of April and more than 80 since the O'Farrell-led Coalition government took power.

In one incident, shots were fired into residential premises where young children were nearby but miraculously missed them.

Both the government and the Police Commissioner have been at pains to describe the shootings as "targeted" attacks, and they are probably right. By emphasising the "targeted" aspect of the shootings, the government and senior police are being clever in attempting to allay the real fears that the residents of western Sydney hold in relation to this now out-of-control menace, the nightly drive-by.

Yes, they may be "targeted" attacks but eventually some of these bullets will miss their intended "targets" and either kill or wound an innocent person, such as the young children playing innocently in their home on Sunday night.

I recently read figures compiled in a study of drive-by shootings in the US, where up to 38 per cent of the victims are in fact innocent bystanders. No doubt many of these shootings were "targeted" attacks - it's just that they hit the wrong "target".

One of the cases I read recently in the US involved a grandmother who was minding her grandchildren while the parents were at work. She was outside a unit block watching her grandchildren play when gang members decided to shoot up the building. A stray bullet struck the grandmother, killing her in front of her terrified grandchildren.

The other issue about the government and police response to this almost daily occurrence is to hold a press conference with senior police calling the gunmen "cowards" and "idiots". We all know this but the problem is, these "idiots" are outsmarting everyone - the police, customs and border security and the O'Farrell government.

The emotion these senior police show has worried a few veteran detectives and journalists that I have spoken to in the last week or so. All of them agree that senior police and indeed the NSW government look beaten. They have few answers left to give and are relying on their media advisers to "prop them up".

The way senior police and the government are dealing with this crisis reminds me of New York before Rudolf Giuliani and his police commissioner Bill Bratton.
Dave Dinkins was mayor of New York City between 1990-1993, which were some of the worst years of violence in the city's history.

So bad in fact had crime become that the New York Post ran an unprecedented heading on its front page in big, bold lettering, "DAVE, DO SOMETHING".

Time magazine followed up the headline with an article titled The Rotting of the Big Apple and detailed the city's woeful crime rates, in particular, violent homicides that had reached nearly 2300 per year.

Enter former district attorney Giuliani and new police commissioner Bratton. Both adopted the "zero tolerance" policing model based loosely on the renowned "broken windows" theory published earlier by Kelling and Wilson in The Atlantic Monthly.

In essence, every crime matters. There are no "victimless crimes" because ultimately, society is the victim, as Bratton often said.

If untreated, smaller crimes can and do morph into bigger problems because the offenders committing them have not been deterred early enough.

The turnaround in crime for New York City after 1993 is staggering. Murder levels have dropped from more than 2000 to around 500 per year, levels not seen since reliable statistics were first gathered in the early 1960s.

Overall crime has not just dropped 80 per cent, it has remained at that level for the past two decades - unprecedented for a city the size of New York with its longstanding crime problems.

Here's a chance for the government elected to power with a mandate more than 12 months ago to create a legacy in this state not only for this generation but for the next.

Start the long and painful process of eliminating guns and gangs from our state and you can do this by turning the fear factor back on the gangsters.

How can we do this? Introduce mandatory minimum sentencing for gun crimes. Five years for possession of a gun and 15 years for bringing a gun to a crime.

This law is despised by both defence lawyers and their clients but applauded by cops and prosecutors.

Mandatory minimum sentencing has a "knock-on" effect in that it not only incarcerates offenders and removes them from the streets, it also sends a chill down the spine of would-be gangsters that they might be next if they decide to take a gun to a crime.

There can be "escape valves" built into the legislation to ensure that offenders who co-operate with police and give up co-offenders and the source of their weapon supplies, are treated sympathetically, but only if they co-operate.

Maybe NSW needs the headline "BARRY, DO SOMETHING" to get meaningful action underway.

Tim Priest is a former detective sergeant for NSW Police

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