Wyndham police say they are concerned about an emerging trend of first-time youth offenders committing serious crimes such as carjackings and home invasions.
In the past 12-18 months, Wyndham police say they have noticed that many young people – aged from their early teens onwards – were being charged with serious crimes despite having no previous records.
Inspector Marty Allison said that traditionally, young people would commit minor offences such as shoplifting before moving to more serious offences.
“What we are seeing now is often that a young person’s first contact with crime is in its highest, most heinous form,” he said.
He said many young first-time offenders were now involved with carjackings, street robberies and home invasions.
He said police first noticed the alarming trend while investigating home invasions which often involved groups of four, five, six or more young offenders entering properties.
“When we started arresting them and looking into their backgrounds – and it was obvious some of them had never been involved with the justice system before – that’s when we started to notice,” he said.
Inspector Allison said that police in Wyndham had seen enough first-time youth offenders committing serious crime to label it “a trend”.
He said a similar “phenomena” seemed to be occurring in other western suburbs, including the municipalities of Brimbank and Melton.
He said there appeared to be no common ground or traits shared by most of the serious first-time offenders. And it was not always young people who were disengaged from education who were committing serious first-time offences.
“Recently, we arrested two university students and it was the first time they were arrested for this type of crime,” Inspector Allison said.
He said that although police had noticed the trend, they could only speculate as to why it was occurring. Inspector Allison hoped an academic organisation would carry out research into the issue.
A recent hearing of the state government’s inquiry into youth justice centres in Victoria also heard of an increase in serious first-time offending among young people.
The Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner, Stephen Leane told the hearing there was “a new cohort” of youth offenders “who essentially have jumped in at the deep end of criminal offending” with armed robberies, home invasions carjackings and burglaries.
Inspector Allison said that youth crime was not something the community “could arrest its way out of”.
He said there needed to be a “whole of community” approach.
West Justice chief executive Denis Nelthorpe said some young people who committed first-time offences were surprised to hear they would have to face court.
“There is often a surprising naivety about these sorts of events,” Mr Nelthorpe said.
He said that in the past, young people who graduated from minor crimes to more serious ones presumably understood the gravity of what they were doing.
“In the past, you would say to a young person, ‘Do you realise if you get much worse you would get locked up in a youth detention centre?’” Mr Nelthorpe.
“Now we are not having that graduated scale, so you lose the chance to teach them about the consequences.”
Western suburbs youth worker Les Twentyman said peer group pressure and methamphetamine use could sometimes play roles in first-time youth offending.
Mr Twentyman said many children who were suspended and expelled from school became involved in crime and that education was vital to deter children from a life of crime at a young age.
Mr Twentyman said a good example of this was Melton West Primary School, which had worked with the Les Twentyman Foundation to have Sudanese-born youth worker Gum Mamur visit its students twice a week.
Victoria University Associate Professor Tim Corney, a former youth worker who studies youth issues, said providing “alternative pathways” was important to help keep young people out of the justice system.
Dr Corney said Victorian councils needed to be given more funding for youth workers, who could help to divert young people away from crime through involvement with sport and other organisations.