A plan to overhaul Queensland’s stock squad will see greater focus placed on tackling rural crime issues such as drugs, child exploitation and fraud.
The “renewed focus” comes as the State Crime Command moves towards a taskforce response model, according to Stock and Rural Crime Investigation Squad (SARCIS) state coordinator Mick Dowie.
Detective Inspector Dowie said the change was not a shift away from livestock-related crime, but rather a move to tackle issues most harming regional communities.
“There is no change to what we’re doing now,” he said.
“These are all evolving organised crime issues that have traditionally been affecting metropolitan areas, but now with the advent of the internet and everything else, these crimes are actually happening in our rural communities.
“So the expectation will be of course while we’re out there … we’ll be actively seeking out intelligence, feeding those back into our squads and actively supporting the districts to defeat these types of crimes.”
Best placed to respond
Detective Inspector Mick Dowie says SARCIS must evolve with issues affecting Queensland. (ABC Rural: Arlie Felton-Taylor)
Detective Inspective Dowie said SARCIS was evolving to be best placed to respond to rural crime.
“There is all types of crime happening around rural Queensland that are posing significant harm to these communities,” he said.
“And that changes. Like the type of crime that we’re seeing through the commission of inquiry that’s affecting Queensland now is different to what it was in 1959 when the stock squad was formed.
“And it’s different from when it was 2004 when there was an identity change to reflect what we actually do out there and what we still do today.”
Broader duties a ‘step in wrong direction’
But a former stock squad boss said he was concerned that progressive changes to the unit’s focus was causing it to lose touch with its core duties.
Terry Hanly retired from the force in 2012 at the rank of detective senior sergeant, after 11 years as the squad’s northern area coordinator.
Mr Hanly was very outspoken when the stock squad changed to SARCIS, and maintains the broadened duties were a step in the wrong direction.
“Once you lose the stock squad and it becomes something else, you lose a certain amount of power or time to do your job,” he said.
“The further we get away from the actual stock squad the worse we’re going. We’re certainly going on a big slide downhill.”
Mr Hanly fears reforms will be at the cost of specialised skills including wide-ranging livestock knowledge, mustering and drafting expertise.
“You don’t send a mechanic to do an accountant’s job — you haven’t got mechanics in the fraud squad,” Mr Hanly said.
“So you shouldn’t have general duties people with very little knowledge in the stock squad, otherwise the credibility of the squad goes out the door.”
Enough police to deal with issues
But Detective Inspector Dowie defended the changes and said the command would build the capability of squad members.
He said there would be enough police on the ground to deal with stock theft issues.
“We are not in any way downplaying the seriousness of stock theft. We are well and truly aware of the heightened threat around stock theft because of the prices at the moment,” Detective Inspector Dowie said.
“We know that people can’t afford to have stock stolen from them, but they also can’t afford to be defrauded.
“They also, I’m sure, want us doing everything we can do to protect their children from indiscriminate drug dealers and from online sexual predators.”
AgForce president Grant Maudsley says the State Crime Command has been consulting with the lobby group since last year over SARCIS changes. (ABC Rural: Lydia Burton)
Lobby group AgForce is across the proposed changes in the role of SARCIS.
General president Grant Maudsley said AgForce understood that drug issues and other crime was on the rise in rural areas, but stock-related crime must not be neglected.
“We would need to understand what the mix of work is going to be to assure AgForce members and non-members across the state that there’s still someone out there looking out,” Mr Maudsley said.
“It’s an important area and there’s certainly stock theft in Queensland.”
Mr Maudsley said recruitment of investigators with specific stock skills was the group’s greatest concern.
“There’s been a pathway in the past where ringers or stockmen that had an interest in this area … [could move] into the police force,” he said.
“We would be concerned that there mightn’t be an obvious pathway anymore, and I’ve raised that issue with people and they assure me that the pathway can still be there.”