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Premier talks up SA arsonist programme -

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Premier talks up SA arsonist programme

The World Today - Tuesday, 10 February , 2009 12:30:00

Reporter: Nance Haxton

BRENDAN TREMBATH: A South Australian program to crack down on arson could be introduced in other
parts of the country.

Police in South Australia trying to keep an eye on known and suspected arsonists with surveillance
and personal visits.

The program is called Operation Nomad.

South Australia's Premier Mike Rann credits the four-year long operation with preventing a number
of grassfires in South Australia from burning out of control on Saturday, as the state sweltered
under similar weather conditions to Victoria.

He's speaking to Nance Haxton in Adelaide.

MIKE RANN: How that works is that over the years we've got a data base of people who are suspected
of being arsonists or being potential arsonists based on intelligence and information given to us.

They haven't necessarily been convicted but they are suspected. They're what are known as persons
of interest.

So on Saturday 40 persons of interest were visited by police and were told that we were watching
them, that they were under surveillance. To stay at home, not to go out and we've found this to be
particularly effective.

I mean, obviously we can't guarantee anything but the police believe that the number of
deliberately lit fires in South Australia has gone down since we've had Operation Nomad but there
is still a number of them.

I mean we had, a few years ago, about five years ago, I was given information that about 50 per
cent of the fires in the Adelaide Hills were deliberately lit. So far this summer it is about 20
per cent of the fires in South Australia are deliberately lit.

So we think that Operation Nomad is worthwhile. Certainly our fire services, both the Country Fire
Service, Metropolitan Fire Service believe so and so do the police.

NANCE HAXTON: Is that why you credit the program for having such success - because it actually
targets these arsonists really on suspicion?

MIKE RANN: Absolutely. I mean this is, in the last few months we have seen 35 people charged with
offences ranging from deliberately lighting a bushfire which carries a life sentence and we upped
it massively a few years ago to 20 years and now we have made it a life sentence.

But we're also doing this thing about people who are suspicious and we are being pro-active rather
than reactive.

I should say that in addition to turning up and basically letting people know that we are on to
them, we also have what is known as an automated number plate recognition camera which is deployed
and the police load into that camera the vehicles that we know are known arsonists or potential
arsonists and we have, so we have their number plates loaded into the system.

We also have vehicles of their associates as well and these cameras, which are deployed at various
locations, as soon as that car goes by with that recognition built into the computer technology, we
have got our patrols out there following them.

NANCE HAXTON: Is psychiatric treatment offered to those people as well?

MIKE RANN: Before you can compel people to have psychiatric treatment, you have got to have proof
and evidence. We are being more proactive than that. We are basically saying, we are basically
intervening in order to prevent things happening.

I have to say, I find it stunning, I find it stunning that we have got hundreds of people fighting
fires and we have got 120 people preventing these idiots from lighting them.

What I don't like to see however is when people get up before the courts, we hear these bleeding
heart stories about them. I think the public is sick and tired of it. These people are terrorists
and need to be treated as terrorists because that's exactly what they were.

So we shouldn't be diving into the depths of sympathy for people who are basically putting
everyone's lives at risk.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: South Australia's Premier Mike Rann speaking to Nance Haxton in Adelaide.