ABC: Queensland criminologist says digital police communications possible solution to combat vigilantism

A digital communications network could help police stop acts of vigilantism, a Queensland criminologist says, but there are no plans to roll out the technology to the state’s regions.

Key points:

  • The Government Wireless Network allows agencies to communicate via secure digital radio
  • The technology has been used in south-east Queensland since 2014
  • Authorities say scanners are the “catalyst” of vigilante behaviour

Professor Ross Homel from Griffith University said it was a common-sense approach that would reduce vigilante groups’ access to sensitive police information.

“Common sense would suggest that a closed digital network, which is not available to the general public, would in principle make a difference if implemented,” Professor Homel said.

The Government Wireless Network (GWN) was implemented in Brisbane ahead of the 2014 G20 Leaders’ Summit, allowing police and government agencies to communicate via secure digital radio.

The technology uses encrypted communication channels which members of the public cannot access.

Townsville police strongly cautioned against “vigilante action” after a sedan chasing a stolen car crashed before allegedly veering into 22-year-old motorcyclist Jennifer Board earlier this month.

“Those communications restrict people from listening through the old analogue system,” Townsville Chief Superintendent Craig Hanlon told ABC North Queensland’s Drive program.

“I don’t know when that’s getting rolled out up here.”

Professor Homel, however, warned that technology alone was not the answer.

“It probably would not solve the underlying problem in North Queensland being why is there such a resurgence in vigilante action,” he said.

“It may reduce the incidents of tragic vigilante events and help to control the bulk of the vigilantes, which I would certainly think be a good thing — but we wouldn’t know unless it was introduced and evaluated.”

Earlier this month, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced tough new measures to combat youth crime, including a trial of GPS tracking devices, increased police powers, strengthening anti-hooning laws and reversing the presumption of bail for serious indictable offences.

Assistant Police Commissioner Cheryl Scanlon is heading a new taskforce set up to tackle youth crime.

No plans for regional Queensland

A spokesperson for the Queensland Police Service (QPS) said there were no immediate plans to expand the use of digital communications on the GWN across regional Queensland.

“All officers have access to a range of communication channels, allowing them to communicate with colleagues about operational matters privately,” the QPS spokesperson said.

“The Queensland Police Service strongly discourages anyone taking the law into their own hands and employs a variety of strategies to monitor vigilante groups and take action when required to ensure they are not putting the public at risk.”

A spokesperson for the Police Minister Mark Ryan said state and territory governments were in discussions with the federal government about the next wave of technology to be used for emergency services communications.

“The federal government owns part of the 5G radio spectrum, which could be utilised for the Public Safety Mobile Network,” the spokesperson said.

“Discussions with the Commonwealth will continue with the aim of delivering the best outcomes for all emergency service agencies, including the Queensland Police Service.”

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