When violence erupts in the heart of our city, as it did on Saturday night, tough questions must be put to those in charge.
That is as it should be.
Yesterday’s newspapers questioned the Victoria Police approach to dealing with these gangs. They asked whether police were tip-toeing around issues of ethnicity for fear of being labelled racists.
But if people think their police are going soft on gangs because they are of one ethnic background or another, they are wrong.
More than two years ago, Victoria Police set up an anti-gangs division in Crime Command which has been working on criminal gangs across the state. All gangs will feel the full force of the law if they act criminally.
Offending is offending.
The Apex Gang was originally made up of a small number of young people from the South Sudanese community in Dandenong. They merged with another youth gang and now include a diverse range of young people from different ethnic backgrounds. The majority of these young people were born in Australia.
We will continue to call it as we see it.
As the Premier said – those who chose to act disgracefully on Saturday night chose to do so. They alone are responsible for their actions, and those who have been charged will have to explain them.
The colour of their skin is irrelevant.
Which brings me onto the importance of how we discuss such matters openly in the media and in the community.
For me, the safety of all Victorians is paramount. Number one. That is why we will not shy away from providing the right information we can in order to keep people safe.
If ethnicity is relevant, then we will be forthcoming.
But when it is not, we need to exercise extreme caution. We must make sure we are not unnecessarily demonising law abiding sections of our community and exacerbating any sense of isolation they might be experiencing.
On Saturday night, we witnessed a large group of young men who I’m sure included members of the Apex gang, behaving disgracefully in the heart of our city.
Of course ethnicity is relevant when talking about Apex – this is a gang which has formed along ethnic lines. From a policing perspective, however the focus needs to be on their criminal behaviour and not their ethnicity.
It is clear that we need to do a lot more to bring this group of thugs to task. That is why I have allocated substantial extra resources to Task force Tense which has been responsible for investigating many aggravated burglaries, car thefts and other crimes around Melbourne.
We have been dealing with them and since November we have arrested more than 30.
What happened on Saturday was unacceptable.
Families should be able to come into the centre of Melbourne without having to worry about facing violence and whether they or their families will be safe.
The safety and confidence of our community is critical. It is why I and every other police officer in this state does their job. We want to keep Victorians safe.
However, given their behaviour on Saturday night, we are now significantly boosting the resources of this taskforce and we are determined to put an end to them.
Police, and I am sure the rest of Victoria, have had enough of their thefts and burglaries and now public violence.
They will feel the full force of the law in that regard.
The violence exhibited on Saturday night was unacceptable, but police acted bravely to protect members of the public and themselves.
Police officers, as well as members of the public, were faced with threats of violence. If our officers had not behaved in the manner they did the violence we would have been watching might have been far far worse - for everybody.
Melbourne is a peaceful city where everyone can go out at night and enjoy themselves safely. Victoria Police works hard to keep that peace.
But the challenge posed by youth gangs is a bigger one for society. It is about disengaged youth feeling they have nothing to belong to and nobody to disappoint. Disengaged from their family, their community and often from education. This is a social issue that police feel the brunt of everyday. This is a global issue that is becoming part of our society too.
Victoria Police is determined to prevent people like these destroying the peace that is Melbourne.
We will work to ensure Melbourne streets are not like those in other parts of the world where gangs are fighting on the streets. That is not what we are about.
We want Melbourne to be what it is, what we love. A city of wonderful events where a mum and dad can bring their children to Moomba or to White Night or the AFL Footy Parade and have a wonderful, safe and peaceful time.
We do not want to see this change.
As Chief Commissioner I am determined to rid Melbourne of this group of criminals and thugs so we don't give going out at night a second thought.
Reviewed 22 February 2019