Australia — A TOP police officer has shot down State Government claims that a “taskforce” has been mobilised to target repeat arsonists.
Crime chief Detective Superintendent Brett Guerin disputed statements made by Deputy Premier Peter Ryan at the launch of a major crackdown on arsonists in November.
Two months ago, the Baillieu Government unveiled the Bushfire, Arson and Explosives Specialist Group, which Mr Ryan described as a “taskforce” that would train and deploy 150 specialist detectives to target arsonists in high-risk areas.
The move went part of the way towards meeting a 2009 vow from then-Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu to “establish an arson prevention taskforce to help stop bushfires before they start” and “to increase monitoring of known arsonists who pose a risk of causing bushfires”.
But Supt Guerin, who is in charge of the group, this week told the Herald Sun “it is not a taskforce” and “we do not deploy them on high-risk days”. He also revealed police in high-risk areas may have no idea if a convicted arsonist is living locally.
“There is no requirement for an arsonist to inform police of moving unless they are on parole,” Supt Guerin said.
He said he could not explain why Mr Ryan had described the group as a taskforce.
“How the minister is briefed by his people is out of our control,” he said.
Les White, spokesman for Mr Ryan, said last night: “Whether you call it a squad, a taskforce, a formalised network or a group, the fact is that 150 trained police have been assembled to deal with the ongoing threat of arson.”
Supt Guerin said police had spoken to the Government prior to the launch about the group.
“We briefed his people a week before the launch, I can’t comment on how his staff briefed him. It is not a taskforce working in the one office. They do not strike when something happens,” he said.
In opposition, the Coalition promised tough monitoring on arsonists including extended supervision orders with restrictions imposed on the activities, residence and movements of those considered a high risk of reoffending.
But since coming to office it has failed to act on these promises.
Mr Ryan’s spokesman Mr White said: “High-risk arsonists’ details are stored on the LEAP database, and as Assistant Commissioner Steve Fontana has said, police will be ‘actively targeting those particular high-risk individuals throughout the summer season’.
“Just as the successful Livestock and Farm Crime Specialist Group has been established, so the Bushfire, Arson and Explosives Liaison Officers have also been implemented.” The failure was in the forest areas.Advertisement
Following a 10-year strategy, ACT fire managers have created a mosaic across the landscape of different fuel levels, burning at every opportunity.
But forests have been too wet to burn this spring and the past two summers.
A network of 500 fire trails and strategic burns along the north-west urban edge, heavy grazing and extra grass slashing will create a fortress for the territory which forecasters say faces a higher than average risk this summer.
After a fire-fuelled tornado in January 2003 killed four Canberrans and frightened thousands more, CSIRO fire expert Phil Cheney told the subsequent inquiry the fire’s penetration into urban areas under extreme conditions did not reflect a failure of fuel management on the urban interface.