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Who are the Apex gang?
Find out more about the gang that rioted in Melbourne's CBD with no clubhouse, no colours and no real structure.
Police officers have an important role to help promote community harmony in a multicultural society, but it must never usurp their most important function: to keep people safe by preventing crime and arresting offenders.
If the people of Melbourne are terrified on the streets while they are supposed to be getting together and having fun in the Moomba tradition, all other bets are off.
Let us not mince words. Victoria Police and the state government have become too timid towards ethnic-based gangs. Their timidity is because of political correctness. Police have been handcuffed by fears of being labelled racist. The ethnic gangs then become emboldened and believe they can indulge in violence with impunity.
The underlying causes of the breakdown in law and order on Saturday night go back several years, when Victoria Police was sued for compensation for what was described as "racial profiling" of young African men in the Flemington and North Melbourne area. If racial profiling means targeting people simply because of their race, then that's not on. But it is just as abhorrent when police are reluctant to check suspicious activity for fear of being accused of racism.
The most bewildering response to the Flemington issue was Victoria Police's decision last year to introduce a receipt system in Moonee Valley, Greater Dandenong, Boroondara and Mildura. Under this bizarre arrangement, police are expected to hand out a receipt for every "informal contact" they make with people in a public place. The business card-size ticket notes the time, date and location of all informal contacts initiated by police.
The police association objected to the trial on a number of grounds – no persuasive case had been made to our members or the public about the merits of the proposal, which adds more paperwork to over-stretched police officers. This system also deters police officers from engaging with the public.
The system was a desperate attempt to appease community groups not known for their affection towards the police.
In recent months, we have asked members of the association to provide feedback on the system. Their comments show that it is achieving the opposite effect to its intention. The system is reducing intercepts and stifling engagement with people. It is also reducing the valuable gathering of intelligence that occurs when police engage with the community even when no offence has occurred.
Officers say the system is cumbersome and valuable time is spent recording details rather than making observations or gathering intelligence.
Here are some of the comments from officers:
"I have seen a real shift in the culture of policing ... and the avoidance [from engagement] that it is generating is really concerning".
"When dealing with a large group, [it is] very impractical writing the same address 10 times on each of the cards and creates a massive delay".
"The only feedback I got from members of the community was negative. They thought it was wasting their time or they were confused and [believed] they were in trouble."
"The whole process is just another softly-softly approach by Victoria Police to try and win political points from the minorities who think we are being racist/discriminatory."
I do not discount the terrible circumstances many of these young people have come from. I do not fail to acknowledge the cultural antipathy towards police and other authority figures that exists in some of these places. I do not underestimate the enormous social challenges faced by young migrants in a new country.
Nor do I fail to appreciate the great work done by governments, community organisations and our citizens to help migrants and their children build a new life. Many police officers are involved in heart-warming programs aimed at helping refugee families, much of it done in their own time. This is the Australian way that has created wave after wave of harmonious migration despite initial difficulties – the Chinese, Italians, Greeks, eastern Europeans, Vietnamese, Cambodians and many others who have come to our shores to live in peace.
We must, and we do, show the same welcome to Africans and Polynesians. But there must be a line drawn on law-breaking and violence. We abandon our responsibilities to the wider community if we create a political, social and administrative environment that tempts us to turn a blind eye.
We must encourage police officers to adopt the attitude that is evident in one officer's response to our survey: "I do not care what colour, religion or sex you are, but if I feel there is a lawful, community and professional need for me to engage with you, I will."
Ron Iddles is secretary of The Police Association Victoria.