Gang crime squad police will be deployed to Wyndham and 17 new officers will be stationed in the area as part of a Victoria Police plan to crack down on African youth street gangs.

In a media conference this morning, Victoria Police Acting Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said police would deploy its gang crime squad, which was set up last year, to Wyndham to assist local investigators in dealing with the escalation of African youth crime.

“We’ve allocated 24 extra police to Wyndham recently, and another 17 to come up in the near future. In addition to that, we’re also working with the African community, we have 42 new special youth resource officers, and they’ll be focusing on case management of high-risk offenders,” Victoria’s top cop said.

Acting Chief Commissioner Patton pointed to a number of crimes involving African youths in the past month, including the trashing and riot at a rented Airbnb house in Werribee on December 20, the 17-year-old Point Cook teen arrested for an alleged assault on a police officer at Highpoint Shopping Centre on December 26, and ongoing crime and public disorder issues at Tarneit’s Ecoville Community Park.

He said the response was about stopping “street gangs” in their tracks and preventing them from escalating to more organised, higher-end offending.

“There’s a common misconception that Victoria Police does not, and has not, acknowledged that it is an issue. That’s incorrect. We have, for a significant period of time, said that there is an issue with over-representation of African youth in serious and violent offending as well as public disorder issues,” he said.

“These young thugs, because that’s what they are, these young criminals, they’re not an organised crime group like a Middle Eastern organised crime group, or an outlaw motorcycle gang, but they’re behaving like street gangs, so let’s call them that.

“We acknowledge there’s an issue, but as I said, this has been the case for some time, and we’ve openly stressed that.”

Acting Chief Commissioner Patton stressed that the vast majority of those in the African community were “very good, very decent people”.

He also said he would have liked to see more arrests following the Werribee Airbnb riot, after the tactical police commander that evening issued an order to disperse the youths as the most appropriate approach.

“Would I have liked to have seen people arrested at that time? Yes, obviously if we could have, I would have loved to have seen more people arrested then … but let’s not second-guess that tactical commander on the street.

“I support what they’ve done, we’ve now got a subsequent investigation flowing into that, and that investigation will continue to determine whether we can arrest anybody.

“We understand our role, and what it is. It’s about public safety, it’s about enforcement.

“We’re not in the dispersal business … we’re in the arrest business, we’re in the enforcement business, and we lock people up when they need to be locked up. I don’t shy away from that, and our police certainly don’t shy away from that.

“We will target them, we will continue to lock them up, we will continue to hold them accountable.”