‘You gotta let me go, ’cause of Daniel Morcombe’

 

"YOU gotta let me go, 'cause of Daniel Morcombe."

The teenager, no older than 16, laughingly tells a TransLink officer this as he walks past him to join his friends.

It is offensive to think the teen, who says he came from Marsden, is using the horrific death of murdered schoolboy Daniel Morcombe so he can catch a train to Westfield Coomera to hang out with mates.

The "no child left behind'' policy has become a massive bugbear for not only TransLink officers, but also the police working on the front lines.

Police and TransLink officers talking to teenagers this week.
Police and TransLink officers talking to teenagers this week.

"He's quoting from the teen thug playbook," the Bulletin is told later on.

"You know, we're damned if we do and we're damned if we don't," says a TransLink officer.

He is talking about the dilemma they face almost daily - do officers let them ride the trams, buses and trains for free if they are caught while already on board, or do they kick them off?

On the one hand, if you eject the youths and something happens to them later, officers will be crucified. On the other hand, if officers let them ride it out and they cause trouble, they will be mocked.

"A lot of them are given warnings. There's an unspoken rule, if they're not causing shit get them home. What's the alternative?" he says.

Large numbers of police swooped on trains this week.
Large numbers of police swooped on trains this week.

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The alternative? A petition circulating online started by the footy coach of Jack Beasley, the Gold Coast teenager stabbed to death in Surfers Paradise, calling on the Government to install security scanners at hotspot stations that would show whether passengers are carrying weapons like knives, as well as drugs, as they climb off trains coming into the Gold Coast, nabbing them before they board trams.

The 17-year-old was allegedly stabbed to death by teens who had travelled to the Gold Coast from the Logan area.

It's 3pm on a Thursday afternoon, school is still out for the holidays and teenagers and adults are streaming through the northern end train and tram stations at Coomera and Helensvale.

The Bulletin has tagged along with police and TransLink as part of Operation Sierra Luminous, a "high-visibility" effort to cut down on anti-social and criminal behaviour across the networks.

Police check IDs and tickets of young teenagers.
Police check IDs and tickets of young teenagers.

Over the next several hours, officers hear every excuse under the sun - "I left my wallet at home'', "I don't have any money'', "I lost my ticket''.

It goes on and on and on.

Adults and teens are caught trying to evade fares. For a few, it is their first time. But for most it is their mode of travel.

But it is the attitude of the teenagers, career train and tram jumpers, towards authority that is the most shocking. Many who are caught have been spoken to up to 20 times in recent months about fare evasion.

Several teens laugh in the face of officers. Others quote legislation.

A worrying number drop Daniel Morcombe's name.

Most just lie through their teeth.

Nearly every train arriving at Coomera Train Station has fare evaders. Within minutes of arriving there, five teens are pulled up by the officers.

A large number of officers were involved in the operation.
A large number of officers were involved in the operation.

For police it's a twofold exercise - they might be lucky and snag someone they've been looking for, a person committing a crime, but importantly it is an intelligence building dream.

During Thursday's operation they completed 181 street checks, nabbed two people for stealing, another for serious assault, one for unarmed robbery and two for wilful damage.

Gold Coast Chief Superintendent Mark Wheeler said young people knew how to use the system to their advantage.

"They do learn the system, very well and very quickly, in terms of using the Morcombe scenario and just in general," he said.

"They are educated in the ways of the world a lot quicker now.''

Referring to the culture of lack of respect, Supt Wheeler called for parental responsibility.

"Parental responsibility certainly plays a part in this because we can't have a police officer at every corner, standing on every carriage of a train, on every bus. It's not possible nor is it desirable. We don't want to live in a military state.

"This is unfortunately a generational thing and there needs to be a cultural shift to start with. "You can have all the laws in the world and enforce them, but there are some problems you can't arrest your way out of and simply locking up the world won't work."

It comes just weeks after the death of Jack Beasley.
It comes just weeks after the death of Jack Beasley.

Police were reviewing Operation Sierra Luminous and how it could be improved.

"Is the frequency sufficient, are the actual tactics and strategies appropriate? I think the work those officers are doing is outstanding considering the circumstances.

"If it's a case of we need to change, then absolutely we will, because we have got to be adaptable and flexible and try to get ahead of the game and not just respond all the time, but prevent.

"It's very complex and I don't think it's a case of if we pull this lever, we'll solve this problem. Every lever you pull, there's a consequence. If one of the levers we pull is throwing these kids off the trains, an unintended consequence could be another Daniel Morcombe."

Acting Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Ryan said it was unfair of people to take advantage of the "no child left behind'' policy.

"Taking advantage of the Government's commitment to child safety by refusing to pay your fare is unacceptable and unfair on other public transport users," Mr Ryan said.

"Operation Sierra Luminous is a great example of officers across different agencies working together to stamp out anti-social behaviour and fare evading."

He said the Government took the safety and wellbeing of passengers in and around trains seriously.

"We now have close to 60 TransLink officers on our network, joining 29 light rail officers, 80 Queensland Police Rail Squad staff, and 28 Queensland Rail Authorised Officers," Mr Ryan said.

"In total, more than 300 security personnel patrol trains across the southeast alongside a 24/7 CCTV network with more than 12,000 cameras.

"All these officers do an excellent job and boosting their numbers will help make public transport safer and give us a much greater presence."



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