29 February 2024

Canberra's not living through a 'crime spree', so don't panic yet

| Zoya Patel
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thief stealing a handbag from a car

Crime isn’t as bad as anecdotal ‘evidence’ suggests. Photo: Garakta-Studio.

Earlier this week, a neighbour posted on my complex’s Facebook group that his motorbike had been stolen overnight.

Thanks to our poor parking options, the motorbike was being parked in front of their front door, visible from the top of the driveway. It was found that same day, dumped several houses away, still in our complex.

The incident comes as Watson and Downer residents have complained about an uptick in crime and theft in the area, with reports of home break-ins, destruction of property and people feeling unsafe at the shops. It’s true that these types of crimes are invasive and scary, partly because of their random nature.

My house was broken into in 2019 when I lived in a rental in Downer. We had moved to the house after years of living in secure apartment complexes, which had double security measures in the form of swipe-access front doors and lifts. We were never on the ground floor and definitely became complacent about safety as a result.

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When we moved to the house in Downer, we stupidly left valuables, like our laptops, in plain sight through the windows (albeit the back windows), and within weeks, we were broken into. The laptops and my jewellery were stolen.

We reported it to the police, received a job number and never heard from them again. It was incredibly violating. The house never felt safe again after that, and we felt vulnerable to further break-ins because we weren’t able to increase the security infrastructure without landlord buy-in.

It’s one of the reasons why, when we were looking to buy a few years later, we chose to buy in a townhouse complex. It felt safer to be surrounded by other houses, set back off the street. People who didn’t belong in the complex would be easier to spot, we figured, and the number of neighbours who were around day and night could be a deterrence.

But the motorbike theft made my heart sink – it seemed so brazen, and even though they were unsuccessful, it made me realise that we may not be as immune to further break-ins as we thought.

That said, it’s worth remembering that crime continues to decrease in Canberra.

According to ACT Policing stats, robberies have fallen steadily in the Inner North between 2020 and 2023. And as for people feeling unsafe at the Watson shops, this makes me feel uneasy. Yes, there are often people begging for cash or groceries outside the shops. Apparently, there are concerns about drug deals taking place. I can’t claim any personal insight into that, but as a frequent shopper at Watson, I will say that I have never once felt unsafe.

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I regularly have conversations with the people who beg outside the IGA, and I have always found individuals to be calm and polite and have never felt harassed. When people talk about feeling unsafe because of being in proximity with others who have less fortunate circumstances – are visibly poor, seeking help and may be homeless – it smacks to me of prejudice. Poverty isn’t contagious, and the simple solution to dealing with beggars, if you aren’t in a position to help or simply don’t want to, is to say no. I often give cash or groceries, but when I’m in a hurry or can’t, no one has ever pressed the issue.

Crime is scary – it’s natural to feel unsafe if you’ve experienced it, and when more than one incident happens in your neighbourhood in a short period, it can feel as if there’s a huge wave of criminal activity, even if the statistics don’t corroborate it. But I think it would be a real shame to paint our suburbs as being rife with criminal activity or suggesting every person at the Watson shops who isn’t clearly middle class is a threat.

Instead, we can focus on reporting actual crime when it happens, seeking proper police intervention and support where needed, and practising empathy for those who are down their luck in the meantime.

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I’m in the process of getting a gun license. Would recommend this to any of the families worried about crime in Canberra especially after the legalisation of drugs in the ACT last year.

Hmm we had 4 people try to break into our house a week ago in the early am. Friends of ours two streets away had others try to steal their car during the day while they were home. Their neighbours had their car stolen. Other neighbours of ours up the road had their car stolen in the same week. Anecdotal it may be but I’ve never known it to be this bad before.

Not everything is equal. And so when someone is homeless, on drugs, quite possibly mentally unstable, broke, and ultimately unpredictable, firstly, it is not irrational to think that they could be capable of doing anything, and secondly, this is not as good for that person (or society in general) as if the opposites were true; and yet this is what Zaya is effectively trying to say, even if she doesn’t even know it, in her attempt to belong to the self-described upper class of society, who are so good as to not give such ‘petty’ distinctions their dues.

And the irony: they (generally speaking) despise the working class more than anyone else – and always have – but have found it expedient to pretend they love and accept them at times.

For proof of the latter, simply look at Canberra’s behaviour towards everyone else after The Voice referendum. Canberra of course was enlightened and high and mighty, while everyone who voted NO was a redneck, uneducated, poor and unhappy good-for-nothing, or a deplorable as their matriarch Hillary would have said.

You can only keep your true colours hidden for so long.

The most compassionate and constructive thing to do here is to see the homelessness, begging and drug taking as a problem, and then do everything that’s humane and possible to change it. Pretending otherwise will only make it worse, in which case if there isn’t a crime wave already there there surely will be

Well said and quite opportune! I have noticed one Liberal politician at the Watson shops over the past number of months with her mobile office popups. It is quite infuriating to see her blow in there quite infrequently and undermine the north. Trying to imply that because there are beggars there is a crime wave underway. Her claims that little old ladies are locked in their houses, too scared to go out, walk around and do their shopping is simply untrue.

Unfortunately, beggars are an easy target for those trying to score cheap political points in an election year!

I have lived in North Canberra for some years and regularly shop at the Watson shops. It is an old and much loved shopping centre in one of Canberra’s more lively precincts. The shops are popular and have a great range to choose from. There are eateries, a well-stocked supermarket, a chemist, post office and a wonderful hairdressing salon which I can highly recommend. It is always busy with shoppers coming and going!

Of course there are those doing it tough and begging. Like the writer, I too have never felt uneasy and have always found those homeless or seeking assistance pleasant. I have also never seen any drug dealing. Beggars can be found at any shopping centre in Australia but that does not mean there are crims skulking around on every corner with people too scared to live freely and go about their lives. The locals shopping at Watson are a generous bunch and I have noticed many of them stopping, helping out and providing assistance and food to those need, as I do.

Capital Retro9:19 pm 29 Feb 24

Canberra beggars have the highest standard of living in Australia.

con tricolas9:02 am 01 Mar 24

The Crime Wave story & blame it on the Left is on Page 1 of the old Conservative playbook.

Even a Canberra jail is a much better quality of life than half the world’s population will ever get yet our criminals are too good for them. Instead let’s rehabilitate our thieves and killers in wilderness retreats and shower them in kindness until the goodness of their hearts shows up!

Capital Retro2:17 pm 29 Feb 24

After being told repeatedly by the police “take your complaint to the government as we don’t have the resources to deal with your problem” people don’t bother reporting crimes anymore.

That’s why the stats look good.

con tricolas8:58 am 01 Mar 24

Have you seriously had many brushes with crime in Canberra? I live here too & have very little to report. I must assume that this is just another of your usual walks down misery lane.

Limestone_Lizzy9:14 am 29 Feb 24

“When people talk about feeling unsafe because of being in proximity with others who have less fortunate circumstances – are visibly poor, seeking help and may be homeless – it smacks to me of prejudices” – with respect, this is awfully condescending and disregards actual resident’s lived experience. Would you say that to victims of other crimes or negative behaviours that you have not experienced yourself?

The beggars at the shops target the elderly, pregnant and otherwise vulnerable following them to cars, often quite forcefully. Many have felt compelled to go into the shops for safety or make purchases for them. Did you make an effort to speak to somebody who has faced harassment? Did you talk with IGA staff?

Would you feel comfortable explaining to you primary school aged child why that man has the ‘nods’?

This is a piss take. Clearly next to no research done before creating word vomit. The exact same beggers are also the ones breaking into houses over night and I have proof of that.

@Dan Nash
I assume you have taken your “proof” to the police and arrests are imminent?

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