Having his own car broken into led Liberal Member for Yerrabi, James Milligan, on a personal crusade across the Gungahlin-based electorate to find out how his constituents were experiencing crime in the region.
After being swamped by several hundred responses, Mr Milligan says Gungahlin residents are worried about their personal safety, increasing crime rates and police resources, but the Government and ACT Policing have poured cold water on his assertions.
An ACT Government spokesperson accused Mr Milligan of trying to whip up fear in the community, referring to ACT Policing statistics which show a continual decline in total crime across the area, from 1271 offences in the first quarter this year, to 1161 in the most recent quarter ending in September.
Year-on-year third-quarter figures from July to September have been falling since 2017. During this period last year, there were 1318 total offences across the Gungahlin area, which means the total number of crimes in the same time period has fallen 12 per cent.
However, there has been an increase in total offences committed in the month of October, with data showing a 20 per cent increase, from 335 offences in October 2018 to 402 incidents in October 2019.
Mr Milligan told Region Media that burglary and theft in the Gungahlin area were prominently featured in emails and discussions with constituents after he released a crime survey throughout his electorate after his car was broken into.
While number of burglaries has increased from 21 to 31 between September and October, burglary rates are the same as this time last year and 46 per cent lower than in January.
When it comes to theft (excluding motor vehicles), there was a sharp increase in October, jumping to 118 reported incidences compared to 67 the previous month, and 75 in October 2018. The number of thefts has varied significantly throughout the year, from a high of 141 reported cases in February to a low of 67 in September.
Mr Milligan says these statistics don’t show crime that isn’t reported, which is what he’s hearing about more and more.
“Some state that they haven’t contacted police because the police are not well resourced enough, so they just let it go,” he says. “Some crime may be minor, something small was stolen or a window was broken, so they don’t bother reporting it, they choose not to,” he says.
Despite criticism for being under-resourced, ACT Policing says it operates under a community policing model and deploys resources in a flexible manner, which means officers from anywhere across the Territory are able to be assigned to a job in any district.
Mr Milligan says he has written to the government on numerous occasions, as has Liberal police spokesperson Giulia Jones, about the situation.
While he hasn’t approached local police personally to ask about resources, Mr Milligan says it is the government’s responsibility to have an open dialogue with ACT Policing.
“This isn’t necessarily an election issue. The community needs assistance right now,” he says. “It’s up to the government to act on what’s needed, to talk to police, see where are they stretched, what support they need.
“People can’t afford to wait until the next election, they need action right now.”
But the government has accused the Canberra Liberals of fearmongering.
“We know that Canberrans feel safe. The ACT experiences low crime rates compared to other jurisdictions and overall offence rates have decreased over the last decade. Contrary to Canberra Liberal claims, reported crime in Gungahlin has been dropping as the region continues to grow,” an ACT government spokesperson says.
“Our $33.9 million commitment through the 2019-20 ACT Budget is the single largest investment in ACT Policing this decade. It will help ACT Policing transition towards a more connected community-focused police service with 69 more operational and support staff over the coming years.”
On Tuesday, Ms Jones criticised Chief Minister Andrew Barr for abandoning frontline police.
“The ACT has the lowest number of police per capita and the lowest police funding per capita in Australia,” she says.
“Our police force is getting smaller. There are now 50 fewer cops out on the beat compared to 2010. In that same period, the ACT population has grown by almost 70,000 people.”
But the government says ACT Policing staffing has increased.
“These investments will mean more police officers on Canberra streets. The headcount for ACT Policing staff has increased from 893 to 927 and the number of sworn police officers has increased from 677 to 710 from June 2018 to June 2019,” a government spokesperson says.
“ACT Policing has already implemented a number of new measures, including an improved communication model and mobile platforms to assist in making the dispatch of officers more efficient.
“The Government’s recent investment in the ACT Policing future service model will assist ACT Policing to meet the growing demands of our community.”