Criminal Law

By Maeve Ireland-Jones


Is Burglary not a serious enough crime for the Police to care about?

In an article released this morning by ABC Radio Canberra, ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan has confirmed that over the next 12 months, ACT Policing will be implementing an online reporting system to replace the traditional mode of having an officer attend an individual’s home.

In his interview with ABC Radio Canberra, Commissioner Gaughan asserted, “We will be less responsive to some of the property crime we have been to in the past.” He continued, “if it’s a real time issue, if someone is at your house, we will be there. But if you find out your house has been broken into and there’s no obvious signs, forensic evidence, we will be asking people to do a report.”

Whilst it may be understood that ACT Police want to streamline their resources to areas posing a threat to life, this adjustment presents as a large oversight to some of the most prominent offences on the criminal calendar. The offence of aggravated burglary carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment, which is by no means a nominal punishment. Further, using proof of ‘forensic evidence’ as a threshold for determining whether an officer should visit the site of a crime seems to be an inappropriate measure, that should in no way be the responsibility of a victim to determine.

Commissioner Gaughan justified his commentary by affirming that “we did see a reduction in property crime [during COVID 19]”, however he concedes, “primarily due to the fact that people were home.” With the COVID restrictions poised to continually ease, this also presents as an unreasonable impetus for reducing focus on these areas of crime.

To limit the offences which are deemed by the police to be ‘serious’ enough for physical intervention, also places a restriction on the access to justice. From a legislative perspective, the high penalties associated with property offences (Burglary, Robbery, theft, etc) indicate the intended seriousness of some crimes compared to others. Common Assault carries a maximum penalty of 2 years, however under this new regime such a crime will be considered of more importance than one which carries a punishment 10 times more severe

From a practical perspective, there is also a limitation placed on the access to police services for individuals who may not have the means to access an online portal, or for those whom English is a second language.

Needless to say, there are a number of evident issues with the ACT Police’s decision to enforce an online reporting system. Although Commissioner Gaughan assured the ABC Radio Canberra that, “It’s going to be a slow rollout,” it would not be surprising if the Police Force receive considerable backlash – and so they should.  Sometimes the top brass of the AFP forget they are public servants and they are there to literally serve the public.  The community should demand a better service from our police officers and not settle for cost-cutting, second-rate services.