Youth crime in Warrnambool is at its highest level in more than three years, new Crime Statistics Agency data reveals.
The number of criminal incidents involving people aged 10 to 24 has increased by 58 per cent since 2015, the data shows.
The Crime Statistics Agency says there were 591 offences committed in the year to December 2018, compared with 374 incidents in 2015.
Warrnambool police Inspector Paul Marshall said the data was quite alarming.
"Our youth resource officers are trying to prevent this sort of offending before it starts but unfortunately once these kids hit our books, the data is already there," he said.
Earlier this month a Corangamite district teenager who crashed a stolen car, seriously injuring a 13-year-old passenger, was placed on youth probation.
The teen stole a 2005 Holden Statesman sedan from outside a Cobden property in June last year before crashing it into a tree at Naringal East.
The passenger was airlifted to the Royal Children's Hospital with serious internal injuries.
The youth told police he drove at up to 180km/h.
Inspector Marshall said he remembered the car accident at Naringal East well.
"It was extremely lucky that nobody was killed," he said.
"If that had been the case it would have been culpable driving and he would have been incarcerated for a long time.
"It is extreme risk-taking behaviour to steal a car, especially at that age. It used to be called joy riding but it is anything but that."
In the year to December 2018, the 18-24 age group topped the list for theft, assault, offensive conduct and drug offences.
But for burglaries and break-ins, it was the 10-17 age group that recorded the highest number of offences.
Inspector Marshall said want often outweighed morals and values.
"If they want something and they haven't got the money, they'll steal it," he said.
"Thefts happen from homes, cars and handbags and a lot of the time we see them take someone's pay wave card and then deception offences sky rocket too.
"They say some people don't mature until after they're 25, so how do we put an old head onto a young body? There's definitely a lot of peer pressure on the young ones but for us, community values are key.
"People often say kids feel isolated or there's not enough service providers but at the end of the day, if we build them a skate park, will that really help? I don't think it's that simple. We need to teach them the right values, we don't need a skate park to do that.
"And while those lessons absolutely come from the police, it can't just come from one angle of the community. It needs to come from schools, parents, elders and other people in the community because it's true what they say, it takes a village to raise a kid."
Breaking the cycle of crime
Warrnambool's youth specialist officer says it's not unusual for children to be led astray by teenagers more experienced in the criminal field.
Crime Statistics Agency data shows the 10-17 age group topped the list for break-ins and burglaries in the year ending December 2018.
Those statistics include offenders aged up to 24.
Last month a magistrate told a Warrnambool court that a 21-year-old parolee had "preyed upon" a 19-year-old with a learning disability, to use his car and be on the lookout as he committed a number of thefts from motor vehicles.
Leading Senior Constable Rhiannon Everall said offenders in their early teens often associated with young adults with a criminal history.
"Sometimes that can lead to that criminal activity and unfortunately (the younger cohort) are the ones who get caught in the end," she said.
Leading Senior Constable Everall was one of 42 youth specialist officers deployed across the state about 12-months ago.
She works with serious recidivist offenders aged between 10 and 20, who are involved in serious crimes including assaults, aggravated burglaries, carjackings and anti-social behaviour.
She said family violence, disengagement from school and unemployment all contributed to youth offending.
"Someone might have a negative upbringing and then they'll disengage with school and they're not occupied with anything anymore," Leading Senior Constable Everall said.
"Suddenly they're at home, they're walking the streets, they're involved with other kids with a similar background and that can lead to criminal offending."
Leading Senior Constable Everall said she aimed to break the cycle of crime before it continued into adulthood.
"Usually I'll meet with the kids, look at what their circumstances are and refer them to external agencies," she said.
"It's about trying to get them engaged in education or employment, looking at other avenues and attempting to put them on a totally different pathway.
"Targeting those at-risk kids who are at the higher end of offending will have a better result for them, for us, for community safety and for victims of crimes."
Youth specialist officers were funded under the Labor Government's Community Safety Statement 2017.
The officers work closely with Victoria Police investigators, youth resource officers, police prosecutors and front-line members to share information and provide greater coordination when responding to youth offending.
Police urge kids not to be scared
A Warrnambool officer is urging parents not to use the police to scare their naughty children.
Leading Senior Constable John Keats is one of five youth resource officers stationed across the Victoria Police western division.
He said he worked with people aged up to 24, with a focus on proactive policing.
"We implement early intervention and crime prevention strategies for young people," Leading Senior Constable Keats said.
"That includes service delivery to young people in schools and community groups. We talk about issues that are prevalent, including cyber safety, drugs and alcohol and anything else that may be of concern.
"We link in with schools and other places like WRAD and Brophy and we give kids advice to keep them out of the justice system."
Leading Senior Constable Keats said information sessions ranged from educational seminars to Victoria's iconic Blue Light underage discos.
"At the end of the day, we are here to keep the young ones safe. We want to help when things go wrong and we don't want young people to be scared of us," he said.
"One thing we, as police, really hate is when parents say to a young person 'put your seat belt on and do your homework or the police will get you'. All that does is make the kid scared.
"We've gone to schools and the kids have cried. I don't think we are scary and we just want young people to be able to approach us.
"That's our number one role, to break down those barriers between police and young people."
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