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Victorian Government throws $2bn at crime problem -

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LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: When a state finds itself in the grip of a crime wave, the costs aren't just in dollar terms - governments that fail to convince voters they're in control are at risk of being turfed out.

Victoria's Government is well aware of that, given the widespread community concern about a crime spree by mostly Sudanese youth - you might remember our story last week on just that.

The State Government's now throwing $2 billion at the problem, and promising to dramatically increase the size of its police force.

Victims are in favour, but others aren't so sure, as Lauren Day reports.

STEVAN MORROW: I was out in the office and I just heard a smash of glass, and we've got monitors out the back and then obviously came out, saw the three guys sort of starting to smash the cabinets and one of them had a gun, and obviously pointed it at Elaine's head first, and then she sort of ran out the back and I sort of followed suit and just sort of came forward, um, and they, two of them continued.

The other one wanted me to open a safe, which I wouldn't do and that's it. It sort of happened very, very quickly. It was over and done with really quickly.

LAUREN DAY, REPORTER: There are just a few machete marks left from the chaos at this Toorak jewellery store, which was robbed in October by three men armed with machetes, baseball bats, a hammer and a gun.

But while the clean-up only took a few days, the healing is taking much longer.

STEVAN MORROW: One of the girls hasn't been back to work - Jarina, one of our jewellers, she has actually, had to go over to Canada, back to see some family.

But she was very traumatised by it for the first few weeks, but she's recovering from that. Elaine hasn't come back to work yet. So she's still very upset about the whole experience.

DANIEL ANDREWS, VICTORIAN PREMIER: Every Victorian has the right to feel safe and sadly, there are some in our community who do not feel safe at the moment.

There are parts of our justice system that simply aren't working, and we need to make changes.

LAUREN DAY: While overall crime rates are down, car-jackings and burglaries by a small number of young offenders are up.

The Andrews Government has faced a caning in the media, and increased pressure to get tougher on crime.

Now, it's upping police numbers by 20 per cent and proposing new legislation.

DANIEL ANDREWS: A raft of sentencing and other changes - all of which are grounded in common sense, all of which say that, if you've done the wrong thing, you will pay a heavy price for that.

LAUREN DAY: On the streets of Melbourne today, voters were divided about the extent of the crime problem.

VOX POP: There are times where I do feel unsafe. The reason why I feel unsafe is because there's no great plan in place to actually deal with the ice epidemic.

VOX POP 2: No, I don't agree with Victorian laws. It's a nice place, like if you are travelling at night, there are protected services all over the stations.

VOX POP 3: I'm aware that there's a lot of talk about and a lot of reports of more crime, I guess because I haven't actually experienced it, I don't feel it.

And I wonder whether it's maybe a bit of a beat-up too, from the point of view of the statistics.

HUGH DE KRETSER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS LAW CENTRE: Youth crime is actually dropping in Victoria. It's dropped about 25 per cent overall over the past five years even better than that, the number of youth offenders has dropped 42 per cent over the last five years.

So this is a good news story. Within that, there is no doubt that there is a smaller number of offenders who are committing serious offences, and we absolutely need to tackle that.

Statistics are meaningless for the person who is harmed by crime, so we need to drive crime down further.

LAUREN DAY: Human rights lawyers argue the real investment needed is in prevention, and the Andrews Government is being driven by politics, not good policy.

HUGH DE KRETSER: When we had the Baillieu government promising a law-and-order agenda, promising a so-called tough-on-crime approach, that's when crime rates started going up. That's when prison rates started going up. That's when reoffending started going up.

So there is a lesson there and the lesson is tough on crime might sound good to voters, but it doesn't work.

BRUCE MCKENZIE, THE POLICE ASSOCIATION, VICTORIA: The community is right to be concerned about crime rates.

Sure, some might argue that that's a perception rather than the reality, but the perception in the minds of the Victorian community is in fact their reality, and it needs to be responded to.

MARTIN PAKULA, VICTORIAN ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We know that in regard to some of the serious offending that we've seen by young people, there are criminal bigwigs behind it.

LAUREN DAY: The headline grabber in the most recent announcement is new legislation which would mean adult criminals who lure kids to do their dirty work face up to 10 years behind bars.

7.30 recently spoke to a former inmate at Parkville Youth Justice Centre, who said outlaw criminal gangs were regularly co-opting kids into crime.

"MATT": I never did it, but I heard about it. Um, they'd steal something for someone who, like, organised crime gangs and they'd say they'd pay them a certain amount if they got them, whatever they got them...

Like, if they got them a car, they'd give them up.

LAUREN DAY: So what sort of organised crime gangs are we talking?

"MATT": I'm not sure.

LAUREN DAY: But it's definitely something that people were doing?

"MATT": Yep.

LAUREN DAY: The government's said its proposed changes will clear some of the hurdles to prosecuting and convicting adults who lure children into committing crimes.

Victoria's Police Association argues the courts need to get tougher on crime too.

BRUCE MCKENZIE: We're concerned that the courts have, at times, let us down as a community.

The courts have, at times, let us down with regard to our members doing their best to put people who are responsible for crime before the courts, for them to be slapped with a wet lettuce leaf at the end of the process.

MARTIN PAKULA: Research shows, time and time again, that when people actually have the facts about a particular case - when they're put in as best as possible the same position as the judge who's sentencing - they tend to agree, and sometimes are more lenient than the judges in terms of giving a sentence.

LAUREN DAY: Steven Morrow has no sympathy for the young criminals he encountered in October.

STEVAN MORROW: A lot of these kids are just getting off with a slap on the wrist. I mean, the police are out there every day arresting them, and they're basically being put away for a night or not even that, and then back out there again.

LAUREN DAY: The Toorak jewellery store never got the $200,000 worth of stolen goods back, and he doubts they ever will. But he says much more was taken away that day in a terrifying two minutes.

STEVAN MORROW: For this industry, you've always got to be careful, but you don't expect that.

In the girls' cases, it's changed their life, basically - how they live. They've become fearful, don't want to go out, do things...

So it's not just a five-minute robbery. It has a lasting impact on people.

LEIGH SALES: Lauren Day reporting.