It’s a team of just 12 policemen and women, but between them over the past four months they have slashed Tasmania’s crime rate by 15 per cent.
Operation Saturate was launched in January as a temporary three-month initiative to combat a spike in the state’s crime figures.
So far, the team have arrested 286 offenders for almost 700 crimes.
“That’s 37 offences per week that we have reduced,” Saturate’s boss, Inspector John Ward, said.
The team, which targets Tasmania’s worst repeat offenders and career criminals, has been so successful that its life has been extended until June 30, with talks underway to make it a permanent fixture.
So how is this small taskforce getting results that much larger units cannot?
A lot of it is having the time, Inspector Ward explained.
“With normal policing, the day-to-day police work in Hobart, Glenorchy, Bellerive etcetera, they have to respond to the radio room in terms of what they’re doing throughout the day,” he said.
“So they might start work on a recidivist, then get called to a crash or a domestic/family violence situation or simply to serve the public at the front counter.
“With Operation Saturate, the 12 staff are autonomous from the radio room, unless it’s extremely urgent,” he said.
“They have the ability to go out and interdict with our recidivist, well-known offenders, on a daily basis — pretty much follow them around if you like.
“We’ve had examples where they’ve followed people into shopping centres and arrested them within 15 minutes for shoplifting, stealing etc.”
Inspector Ward said that difference “gives us that freedom to concentrate on people”.
Despite the impressive figures, unlike other sections of Tasmania Police, Operation Saturate is not benchmarked on the number of arrests it makes or charges it lays.
It has one job: deter people from offending.
Critics say valuable court time is being taken up where traditionally some police discretion would have been used. (Supplied: Tasmania Police)
Keeping the pressure on
The taskforce has charged people with a range of offences including shoplifting, aggravated burglary, drug and firearm offences, and even car-jacking.
“All of them have been known to police, very few have got no record at all,” Inspector Ward said.
“They’re criminal families … some of those names are well-known around Hobart. Everybody knows who they are.”
“They are the type of people we’ve targeted, through to people who have recently been released from prison who have gone straight back into crime within a week of being released.”
Police say lawyers claiming persecution should “ask those offenders they’re representing to stop committing crime”. (Supplied: Tasmania Police)
One of its major target areas has been those breaching their bail conditions and curfews and those who fail to turn up to court. This is what make Operation Saturate different to other police sections.
While police have always done bail and curfew checks and chased up warrants, if they cannot find them on that shift it could be days or weeks before they have a chance to follow up again and track the offender down.
But Inspector Ward said Operation Saturate has the dedicated resources to keep on the offenders until they can track them down.
“Operation Saturate has increased those checks. You might get checked three times a night as opposed to one and if we find there’s a breach we continue to follow up that person until they are actually arrested,” Inspector Ward said.
Not all are fans of Saturate
Australian Lawyers Alliance Tasmanian committee chairman Fabiano Cangelosi argued Operation Saturate was tying up the already over-stretched resources of courts and magistrates for very minor matters.
“The issue is that people are appearing in court in unprecedented numbers for things like failing to sign a bail register,” Mr Cangelosi said.
“It wastes the court time, they almost always inevitably get bail, because usually there is no substantive allegations and the court’s time is being taken up where traditionally some police discretion would have been used.
“It puts a burden on the magistrates, it puts a burden on the courts, it puts a burden on the Legal Aid Commission, and it puts a burden on people who are being taken away from their homes, their jobs, their parents, their children, to sit in a cell for a few hours until the court eventually grants them bail.”
But Inspector Ward scoffed at suggestions Operate Saturation’s tactics amount to persecution.
“I would also like those lawyers to ask those offenders they’re representing to stop committing crime. It’s as simple as that. We’d leave them alone then,” he said.
“Ninety-nine per cent of Tasmanians are good, honest, hard-working, law-abiding citizens and they go about their daily business without ever coming across a police officer.
Inspector Ward said there was a “small percentage” who commit crime “on a daily basis”.
“Sometimes it’s just part of their lifestyle, some people want to commit crime because they don’t want to work — there a whole host reasons. That’s the group that we’re targeting.”