EXCLUSIVE: Devastating reality of soaring juvenile crime
THREE staff members in hospital, more than $100,000 worth of stock stolen, upwards of $60,000 in property damage and 12 break ins over just two years.
These shocking statistics are only some of the hardships owners of rural and independent businesses are dealt as Central Queensland's youth crime rate soars.
Sadly, they are also one of many grim realities Darren Bauman is faced with almost weekly.
As owner of both Dingo Roadhouse and Dingo Hotel, Mr Bauman is well and truly feeling the effects of what he says is a relentless cycle of juvenile crime.
The problem, he claimed, is the complete lack of repercussion for the youths who offend, including those who reoffend. However, this time he said local authorities were not to blame.
Mr Bauman and Dingo Roadhouse manager Justin Alden have pointed their fingers at the Queensland Governmen's Youth Justice Strategy.
The strategy was released by the Palaszczuk Government in 2018 to outline how government, businesses and residents would work together over a five-year period to improve community safety and reduce youth reoffending.
According to the act's 2019-2023 revision, 4017 youths were charged with a proven offence during 2017 to 2018 and 63 per cent of those involved offences related to property.
It also detailed how law enforcement should work together in a preventive manner, suggesting the most reasonable consequence for offenders was a caution handed down by a magistrate.
Unfortunately, it seems the very people this strategy intended to help has, in reality, failed them.
Youth Justice Minister Di Farmer refuted claims of a failing system, instead she said youths will be held to account for their behaviour, and that they will be locked up if they are a risk to community safety.
Mr Bauman said criminal activity in the area started around two years ago following a breakdown in the management of juvenile crime. From there, he claimed, it evolved into a relentless cycle of catch and release.
"We had our first break in over at the hotel. Our security was reasonably relaxed given the fact that it was a quiet area then," he said.
These days are a stark contrast, he said, admitting that both he and his staff were nervous and up as early as 1am to patrol the area - sometimes for the same offenders from only weeks before.
"We're talking about kids that get caught by cops, charged by them, and a sentence handed down by the magistrate under the youth justice strategy which is basically a slap on the wrist," he said.
"Now both we and other businesses in the area are experiencing the repercussions of these kids not being punished."
Though frustrated, the Dingo man noted the issue went beyond just breaking and entering, as most offenders arrived at his businesses in stolen vehicles driven in from surrounding areas while police watched on powerless.
Under the Queensland Police Pursuit Policy, an officer is prohibited from pursuing a vehicle unless the offender poses an imminent threat to life. An offender's age, should they be deemed juvenile, also prohibits a pursuit.
"Law enforcers are effectively handcuffed by the government. It's a government policy that is essentially training career criminals and totally endorsed by the state," he said.
Mr Bauman admitted that while the Youth Justice Act sounded like a good idea on paper, the actual execution had little to no effect on rising juvenile crime rates.
"It's absolutely ludicrous that kids can steal a vehicle from out of town and then turnaround and break into anywhere they like without interruption from law enforcement," he said.
Businesses are left virtually unprotected and uninsurable, Mr Alden said. Their last line of defence now relies on a community watch where residents notify others of a stolen vehicle headed in their direction.
"At what point do we have a government that we employ to look after and protect us, and to adequately manage the justice system," he said.
Mr Alden has approached local LNP Member Lachlan Millar about his concerns.
Cr Millar shut down Minister Farmer's claims and said that while arrests were being made, no consequences were being handed down.
"Labour just do not want to admit that they have a real problem on their hands. It's a spin. Crime is certainly a major issue in Central Queensland and Police have very little powers to do anything at the moment."
As for the answer, Mr Bauman is unsure, though admitted he was not convinced locking kids up was the right solution.
"Sticking kids in prison is definitely not the answer, but it should never have gotten to a point where these kids get to have 10 sittings in front of a magistrate or 150 charges on their rap sheet," he said.
"We employ a whole lot of public service to figure out the answer. Isn't that what we pay our taxes for? The strategy needs to be reconsidered immensely. It needs to be torn up and rewritten."
As for future offences, it seems to be a matter of not where, but when.
"We constantly hear of one of the other towns being hit in the times that we haven't. It's a case of well we didn't get hit this time, but our time is coming," Mr Bauman said.