Canberrans who have had their homes broken into may no longer be visited by a police officer — instead, they will be asked to report the crime online.
ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan said over the next 12 months, ACT Policing would be introducing an online reporting system in place of having an officer attend a person’s home.
“We will be introducing, in the coming 12 months, online reporting of certain crimes, so we will be less responsive to some of the property crime we have been to in the past,” he told ABC Radio Canberra.
“My expectation is that a lot of those crimes will be reported online.
In a statement, ACT Policing said the expectation was that incidents such as “vandalism, minor property damage, minor burglaries” would be self-reported, and priority given to instances where there was a threat to life.
“What we need to do is make sure resources are focused at the front end, so we can actually get to people that need police assistance,” Commissioner Gaughan said.
“Everything is moving online — banking is moving online, resources are tight, as they are in every sector — so we find this is going to be more efficient, it will allow our officers to actually have more front line exposure to people for high-end crime.
“Obviously our priority is to save lives. That’s our first call.”
Property crime rates drop during COVID
Commissioner Gaughan said car thefts are “probably one of the most prevalent crime types we’re seeing in the territory”.(Pexels)
According to ACT Policing’s website, there have been 1,453 burglary offences reported in Canberra from January to September this year — a marked drop on the previous two years.
“We did see a reduction in property crime [during COVID] I think that was primarily due to the fact that people were home,” Commissioner Gaughan said.
“But we did see an increase in things, surprisingly, like stolen motor vehicles. We continue to see that primarily due to the fact that people are leaving those vehicles insecure.
“What they look for is your [keys] either being in the vehicle or being in close proximity on the bench or something, and they just come in and take it. So you know, don’t leave [your keys] basically in the open, would be my advice.”
In 2020, there were 2,064 burglary offences reported, with the inner north and Belconnen recording the highest number of burglaries with 446 and 393 respectively.
In 2019 that number was higher, with 2,753 reported burglary offences in the territory, with more than 650 of those occurring in the city’s inner-north.
More broadly, a total of 17,525 property crimes, including robbery, theft, car thefts and property damage, were reported to ACT Policing during 2019–20 — a decrease of 12.2 per cent (or 2,429 offences) when compared to 2018–19.
Police want streamlined community interaction
Burglary incidents are down in the ACT, with more people at home because of COVID.(ABC News)
Commissioner Gaughan pointed to the online reporting tool for historic sexual assaults as evidence of the force successfully adopting new technologies; minor traffic collisions can also be reported through the Access Canberra website, and information can be provided to Crime Stoppers via an online form.
“You probably recall about 12 months ago … we actually introduced an online reporting for historical sexual assaults. So we’re actually already moving into that mindset … we’ve got to get with the technology that exists as well,” he said.
Online reporting of property crimes is also encouraged in other states, including New South Wales and Victoria.
While Commissioner Gaughan said the rollout of the online system would be “slow”, he did not comment on the impact the online system would have on people who did not have access to the internet, or for whom English was a second language.
“It’s going to be a very slow rollout. We’re not going to do this suddenly and say, ‘okay, as of tomorrow, this is how people are going to work with police,'” he said.
“[It] will be over a period of time [and] we’ll do some education.”
Shadow Police Minister Jeremy Hanson called the change “extremely concerning”.
“Frankly, this is a direct result of the fact that there are not enough police in the ACT, as has been stated repeatedly by me and by police themselves, and I call on the government to focus on community policing and give police the resources they and the community need.”
But ACT Police Minister Mick Gentleman denied that resourcing was an issue, saying the government had “injected record funding into ACT Policing, including almost $35 million to help modernise ACT Policing services”.
Mr Gentleman also argued that a move to online reporting was an extension of police’s methods, not a “change”.
“ACT Policing’s good work has ensured crime rates are generally down when compared to 10 years ago and Canberra remains one of the safest cities in the world.”