Saturday, September 11, 2004

Covert Squad to Hit Crime in Australia

AUSTRALIA: A NEW police flying squad will target criminal activity linked to licensed venues, security guards, brothels and bikies.The 22-member branch is likely to use undercover operations to investigate problems surrounding gaming, prostitution, fortified premises, crowd controllers and the security industry.Police sources say it is likely to be known as the Licensing Enforcement Branch and be operational by January.It is understood the squad will include officers from SAPOL's liquor and gaming and vice and gaming areas and recruit other public servants.Detective Chief Inspector Paul Dickson, formerly of Adelaide CIB, said he was setting up a new branch but was unable to comment until it was officially launched. The SA Police Association said the branch would help clean up certain venues which had become "havens for criminal activity".Police, including officers from liquor and gaming, met on Thursday to discuss how it would operate.Police sources also believe the branch will "eventually" be expanded to 37 members.A police officer involved in the changes told the Sunday Mail it would operate mostly "covertly"."All of a sudden you're going to get police assigned specifically to look after a (venue) and therefore any breach of licence or security is going to be detected a lot faster," the officer, who declined to be named, said."Once everything gets going there's going to be seven police to each team."Local Service Areas will still be involved in policing licensed premises and will help the new branch, the officer said. Police Association president Peter Alexander welcomed the move, saying it would address growing public concerns about licensed venues."Obviously there's been an aspect of bikies being involved in the security industry and also involved in licensed premises, so it's important there's an ongoing police presence," he said.Mr Alexander said particular licensed premises had been havens for criminal activity."It's important a specific group is looking into that," he said. "There needs to be a police presence besides the normal patrols."It's great that the department is going to focus on providing more policing within licensed premises."He said under-age drinking and drug use were also a concern, particularly in some city venues.Opposition police spokesman Robert Brokenshire said he was not surprised by the move given "problems of compliance with licensed premises"."More needs to be done in that area - I think everyone realises that," he said.He said some of the problems, particularly at city night clubs, were exacerbated by a shortage of police and lack of resources provided by the State Government.Australian Hotels Association spokesman Hamish Arthur said it was not the AHA's policy to discuss matters relating to police.In an e-mailed statement, Commissioner Mal Hyde's media manager Roberta Heather said it was too early to comment about a new branch."A project is under way to develop a new branch, but I cannot confirm anything . . . as the details are not yet available," Ms Heather said."We are aware of media interest in this project and when we have something of substance to say, we will make a release to general media."


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