21 August 2022

'We're coming to get you': ACT police double down on car thieves with new taskforce

| James Coleman
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ACT police car crash

ACT Policing crashed cars. Photo: James Coleman.

If you’ve stolen a car and are thinking of making off with another, the ACT’s Chief Police Officer would like a word.

“We’re coming to get you. We know who you are and we look forward to putting you before court to protect the Canberra community.”

ACT Policing has established ”Operation Toric” (or Targeting Of Recidivists In Canberra) to address an “endemic” issue of motor vehicle thefts and associated dangerous driving and other crimes.

READ ALSO Taskforce target allegedly lurked outside police officer’s home, pursued and rammed car

In the past 12 months, more than 1700 cars have been stolen in the ACT, many high-performance European models. More than 60 are connected to a house break-in. Over the same period, 29 police vehicles have been deliberately damaged by offenders, often by ramming.

In his 38 years as an officer, CPO Neil Gaughan has never seen anything like it.

“What we’re seeing is completely ridiculous,” he said.

ACT Policing Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan

ACT Policing Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan, next to a rammed police car. Photo: James Coleman.

Over the pandemic period, he said police had seen a spike in the number of car thefts, putting officers and the public “in grave danger”. He is now warning drivers who commit these “reckless and illegal acts” their behaviour will not be tolerated.

“The dedicated officers in Operation Toric will put every hour of their work towards bringing each and every dangerous-driving offender to justice.”

Operation Toric kicked off on 1 August, ostensibly as a three-month trial, bringing together about 40 officers from the Proactive Intervention and Diversion Team, Road Policing, General Duties and Intelligence Teams.

READ ALSO Dangerous-driving responses and punishments in the Territory under review

A criminal psychologist has also been hired to find out what goes through the minds of people engaged in this activity, while a tactical squad will help take them down in dangerous-driving situations.

“They will focus on offenders driving stolen vehicles who, willfully and without any care for themselves, their passengers, the community and responding police, put themselves and all other road users at significant risk through their driving behaviour,” CPO Gaughan said.

CPO Gaughan flagged other changes within the police service, including a revised pursuit policy and the use of drones in built-up areas. Ultimately, however, he said change had to come from the top.

“A case in the Supreme Court in 2019 basically ruled that if we have DNA on a steering wheel or gear stick, that is not sufficient to actually charge someone with a stolen car,” he said.

“What we’re after is a ‘trespass in motor vehicle offence’, which exists in most other jurisdictions, to ensure all those people are held to account.”

This law would enable police to pounce on those they allege to have stolen a motor vehicle in the past, even if no dash-cam footage of the incident is available.

READ ALSO Car crushing, harsher penalties for hoon driving examined under road safety review

In its first three weeks, Operation Toric has already been responsible for the arrest of 18 alleged offenders and more than 70 charges. Charges include failing to stop for police, aggravated dangerous driving, driving at police, taking a motor vehicle without consent, firearm offences, drug driving and unregistered, unlicensed and uninsured driving.

Of those charged this month, the vast majority are alleged recidivist offenders, while two have received bail by the ACT Magistrates Court.

On Thursday (18 August), three men in a Toyota RAV4 waited outside the home of a taskforce member before allegedly ramming into his police car. The men were arrested and appeared in the ACT Magistrates Court this morning.

ACT police car

Two of 29 cars deliberately damaged by offenders in the past year. Photo: James Coleman.

CPO Gaughan said it was unusual for police to be targeted outside their home but it would not be tolerated. He welcomed a review into the Bail Act so offenders are less likely to end up on the streets.

“You should never let a piece of legislation go stagnant,” he said.

“If circumstances and community standards change, as I think they have in this particular issue, we need to look at reforming the legislation.”

Following a challenge from the Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA), Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury has told ACT Policing he plans to undertake a review of the Bail Act.

CPO Gaughan is also in talks with the ACT Government over increasing the number of police officers in the Territory to deal with the problem.

READ ALSO ‘Show some leadership’: Police union challenges Attorney-General for sentencing and bail review

Meanwhile, the ACT Legislative Assembly launched the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety on 4 August, looking at a raft of factors related to dangerous driving, including the police response (both in prevention and following crashes), as well as the criminal justice response and the sentences and penalties handed down to offenders.

The community can make submissions to the inquiry until 30 September.

CPO Gaughan asked Canberrans to ensure their home is properly locked and secure before they go out and that car keys are stored out of sight.

“I ask people to secure their house, their keys, and try to prevent as much as possible these people making you the victim of their crime.”

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Sho Defektiv11:00 pm 19 Sep 22

lol what a god damned joke, i rang so many times about my neighbour (who then did a home-invasion where he tried to set the victims alight) about stolen cars,

so many god damn times, and i provided CCTV of them as well, but they waited till after he’d done the home invasion to do anything (they were all very interested after he’d done the home invasion about what i knew and my footage, not before)


this being the incident in question, so please piss off

While most people would agree Bill Stefaniak from the Belco Party that you are a nice man, your thought processes on law and order can be a little muddled. The law can sometimes be an ***, but I have confidence in Shane Rattenbury and our justice system. I have confidence in our elected representatives to debate and legislate effectively and our judges to use their discretion in making their decisions. This includes rehabilitation for the offenders so that they can be integrated back into society. There are many factors that judges take into account when making their decisions. The presumption of innocence, the offenders background, the rule of law and Human rights are considerations that you might not like but they are critical components and rightly so. I remember that when you were opposition AG your party fought tooth and nail against implementing the ACT’s Human Rights Act. The HR Act is an integral component of any legislation in the ACT. It was an interesting debate to follow at the time. Other states have followed the ACT’s lead implementing their own HR acts. The Act’s has been in operation in the ACT for over 20 years now and I haven’t seen the sky fall in.

Our courts are pathetic, these judges are paid hundreds of thousands of $ to deliver justice.
Instead they block reasonable decisions such as DNA found in stolen cars, even once properly caught, they will just have discussions about their ‘lived experiences’ probably offer then community service which they never show up for and offer them a driving course or some rubbish.
Of all these cars your probably only talking about a handful of criminals and the police already know who they all are.
Our judges are a lefty disgrace!

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