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"We don't have a magic wand": Chief inspector meets Glenroi locals to talk crime and policing

Chief inspector Peter Atkins runs the crowd at Glenroi community centre through crime statistics. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

By Peter Holmes

The man in charge of about 100 officers at Orange Police Station, chief inspector Peter Atkins, addressed about 50 people who had gathered on Tuesday morning at Glenroi community centre to discuss the recent spate of crime in the city.

Atkins conceded that there had been a spike in theft and arson, but said he was hopeful that the worst of it was over.

Among those in the audience were concerned members of the community; many if not all Orange City councillors; police community liaison; staff from Canobolas Rural Technology High School; Lifeline and Mission Australia; job providers; social workers; and those responsible for implementing plans to assist with parenting and diverting at-risk youth from making poor life choices.

Yes, there was some anger, at the damage, theft and destruction the city had seen lately, and the perception that police sometimes took too long to attend jobs.

But mostly there was positivity, a sense of cooperation, and a common goal. It was not rocket science: if you gave a person a decent start in life, with three square meals a day, role models, love, support, security, education and encouragement, then you were well along the way to producing a useful member of society.

But if you didn't, chaos often followed.

Atkins did a solid job in defending his officers, explaining that the station had a maximum of three police vans in operation at any one time, and that officers were constantly forced to make judgements on competing priorities.

If they couldn't get to you quickly, he said, it was because they were required elsewhere in the city at a job considered more pressing. Or were transporting people to be incarcerated in Bathurst or Dubbo.

He said that each year officers were called to about 800 mental health incidents in the community.

There were also hundreds of bail checks to ensure people were where they were supposed to be (those who weren't then had to be tracked down); and more than 300 domestic violence incidents reported annually.

On a number of occasions Atkins told the crowd that police "don't have a magic wand". If one was available, he'd gladly accept it.

He said that courts west of Orange were known to set bail conditions that required young people to reside with relatives in Orange, which was fine, if they adhered to the conditions. There was nothing he could do about this bail situation, he said.

Afterwards, he told The Orange News Examiner that it went both ways, and people from Orange could be bailed to another town or city. Did Orange cop a bum deal overall? He couldn't say for sure.

There was also nothing he could do about the fact that Orange was a mental health hub and attracted people from across Western NSW with a range of conditions that varied in severity; or that people may have stopped treatment without medical approval.

He said that in recent weeks one of his officers had been punched in the face at John Davis Motors after being called to a tyre-slashing spree, and another had been rammed during a police pursuit.

There was frustration expressed by some in the crowd that courts were not as harsh as they would like them to be. Complaints of this nature have been made since Adam was in nappies.

Irritation, too, that parents weren't being held responsible for their children's behaviour.

Atkins responded by saying that if people wanted to change the laws regarding sentencing, they needed to do that via their state politicians, not the police. He added, though, that the issue was mightily complex, and that locking children and young adults up often created more havoc down the line.

At one point councillor Dr. Steve Peterson asked if magistrates could be held to account for the bail decisions they made.

Chief inspector Atkins also stressed this was not just an issue in Glenroi, and that theft and domestic violence occurred right across the city, and were committed by all sorts of people with different backgrounds and heritages.

Most if not all in attendance appeared to agree that the community support offered in Orange was significant, but that there was always room for improvement and expanded services, particularly for parents who were struggling, children of primary school age, and girls in high school.

Many who were struggling wanted to do better, to break the chain of trauma and despair. They tried hard, and their lives improved.

Others, however, had no desire. They either didn't want, or didn't have the capacity, to take advantage of what was on offer. This was the cohort all of the community services, and the police, were trying to reach.

Chief inspector Atkins said he had been policing for decades, and knew only too well that sometimes you simply couldn't break through. It just didn't happen, despite everyone's best efforts.

After about 75 minutes Atkins called a halt to proceedings. If anyone needed to talk to him further about issues they had raised, they were welcome to call him at the police station.

Police in Glenroi as a ute that had been left tipped on its side is removed. Copyright: Orange News Examiner on-the-spot photo.

As the crowd dispersed, a loud rev was heard. People turned to see someone speeding across Glenroi Oval on a motorbike. The topic of stolen bikes freewheeling around the city at high speeds had generated some heat in the meeting, so perhaps it was apt.

When The Orange News Examiner called chief inspector Atkins a few hours after the meeting to check a few details, he was very positive about how it had gone.

And he had good news. About 15 minutes after the motorbike sped across the oval, it was seized by police.

The rider was not with it, and investigations were continuing.


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