Targeting teenage thieves

Picture: JOE MASTROIANNI 245950

By Matthew Sims

The South East has emerged as a hotspot for youth offenders arrested in relation to a number of burglaries and car thefts with police concerned about a new and “challenging” space where young children are chasing social media notoriety for their criminal activity.

Victoria Police has been running Operation Trinity across Melbourne since 25 March, leading to 1466 arrests, including 370 arrests in relation to burglaries and car thefts, 1096 arrests in relation to crimes such as drug offences and 45 breaches of bail identified.

Police have extended Operation Trinity to Saturday 4 November.

Southern Metro Region Rob Nazaretian said the operation had caused a drop in the number of burglaries and car thefts.

“These are important arrests which have seen about 30 offences a week reduced down to 18,” he said.

“It is a testament to the work of our members.

“We know how disconcerting it is.”

Police have been actively monitoring four boys as part of Operation Trinity:

* A 13-year-old boy arrested 30 times since 2022, in relation to 80 burglary offences, 10 aggravated burglary offences, 16 theft of motor vehicles offences and three robbery offences;

* A 14-year-old boy arrested 13 times since 2022, in relation to 55 burglary offences, 16 aggravated burglary offences, 10 attempted aggravated burglary offences, four home invasion offences and 24 theft of motor vehicles offences;

* A 16-year-old boy arrested 47 times since 2022, in relation to 10 aggravated burglary offences, six attempted burglary offences, 42 theft of motor vehicles offences and his first criminal offences recorded at 10 years of age; and

* A 16-year-old boy arrested 19 times since 2021, in relation to offences including four aggravated burglary offences, eight theft of motor vehicle offences, one armed robbery offence and one affray offence.

Inspector Nazaretian said most of the offending was driven by young offenders aged between 13 and 16 loosely organised over social media groups and platforms, with the overwhelming majority with no formal connection to known gangs.

“It’s about growing notoriety and social media kudos,” he said.

“We know that they’re associated with one another.

“There are a number of kids who represent a challenge to us.”

The number of car theft offences was the third highest in the Casey area last year, with 762 car theft offences reported, behind Melbourne’s CBD with 973 offences and Hume with 796 offences.

Inspector Nazaretian said other hotspots included Monash, Dandenong, Bayside and Kingston, with Dandenong seeing an increase of 126 car theft offences from 2021 to 2022.

“We’ll go to where the demand is,” he said.

“We know that these kids are very fluid and dynamic in their activity.

“It is new, it is different, it is challenging.”

The offenders were also targeting more high-end vehicles in the more affluent areas of Melbourne, including BMW, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen and Audi.

However, the Holden Commodore remained the number one target for theft, with 757 vehicles stolen during 2022, with Ford Falcon and Toyota Corolla in second and third place respectively.

Inspector Nazaretian said police were working with other groups such as social workers to target the factors behind what encourages youth offenders to engage in criminal activity.

“History has show that arresting children and incarcerating them has devastating results,” he said.

“It requires a balanced and nuanced approach.

“It’s unclear whether these efforts will turn anyone around.”

In 2022, Victoria Police recovered 76.6 per cent of all vehicles stolen out of 16,290 car theft offences reported.

In comparison to pre-pandemic figures, this represented an 18.8 per cent reduction from 20,056 offences reported during 2019.