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ACT police hiring criminal psychologist to better understand hoon drivers

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 10/08/2022
ACT police say they've noticed an increase in hoon behaviour since COVID-19. (Flickr: Lori Hersberger) © Provided by ABC NEWS ACT police say they've noticed an increase in hoon behaviour since COVID-19. (Flickr: Lori Hersberger)

ACT police have hired a criminal psychologist to help them tackle the problem of hoon driving in Canberra. 

ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan said hooning had grown as an issue in the ACT over the past few years, and that police were considering a range of tactics to try to deal with it.

The ACT Legislative Assembly has meanwhile launched an inquiry into the issue of dangerous driving, and is currently accepting submissions from the public.

Hoon driving 'happening daily'

Deputy Commissioner Gaughan said police were getting constant reports of dangerous driving.

"It's a daily occurrence," he said.

"Yesterday I had the radio on in my office and we were in pursuit of vehicles driving on the wrong side of the road.

"It's happening daily and it's not happening at three o'clock in the morning like it used to. It's happening at three o'clock in the afternoon in Braddon."

He said action needed to be taken to come up with "better solutions" and prevent hoon drivers from becoming involved in criminal activity in the first place.

"It seems to be post lockdown, after COVID, we've seen an increase in this sort of risky, dangerous behaviour," he said. 

"We've actually engaged a criminal psychologist to look at some of the reasons why people are doing it and thinking about how we can divert kids. You know, I'm keen on trying to keep people out of the criminal justice system."

Police are also considering placing cameras in problem areas to try to apprehend hoon drivers, Deputy Commissioner Gaughan said, as well as the potential of drones to help in tracking the vehicles.

He also said drivers had learned how to evade police, by crossing onto the other side of the road during a pursuit, where police were not permitted to follow.

"At the moment, if a car goes onto the wrong side of the road, we don't chase it," he said.

"Other jurisdictions do things slightly differently."

He said he was aware that residents shared the concerns of police.

"From a policing perspective, this is the one issue that I know Canberrans are really filthy about," he said.

He encouraged Canberrans to make their own submissions to the ACT Legislative Assembly inquiry.

"Hopefully we can see a number of submissions to the committee and they can get together and can work through it and come up with some solutions."

'They've just blocked passage'

In Uriarra, hoon driving is a persistent problem.

For resident Jess Agnew, it is a weekly occurrence.

"Sometimes three nights a week," she said.

"It can be dangerous — there's times where there's hundreds of people ... and you just cannot get through, they've just blocked passage."

She said she had struggled to get a reaction from police.

"There really hasn't been one," she said.

"We were calling regularly, all the residents, and then we just stopped because there was absolutely no reaction that we could see.

"And then the police report came out that hoon behaviour had dropped at Uriarra, because we stopped recording because we'd sort of given up.

"And then so the minister said to us, 'no, you've got to continue reporting', so we all report now."

She said she held concerns for learner drivers.

"We don't want our kids to have to navigate through those kinds of things," she said.

"When they're coming home at night, they've already got to deal with kangaroos and wombats."

'Up to 100 cars coming out'

Hugh Hagan, a 17-year-old who also lives in Uriarra, agrees.

"Consistently we see on Friday and Saturday nights normally only about 20, but up to 100 cars coming out and just doing burnouts and hooning along roads late at night and blocking traffic," Hugh said.

"That's been going on for a number of years now."

He said he knew of people who had been blocked from driving through while attempting to get into Canberra Hospital, and of fires that had been started by the burnouts.

"[Police] just tell us to call it in and try and get photos and video and they will do whatever they can with the numbers that they've got on.

"They might send out a car, it's not very often that they do, and if they do get sent out they just clear the crowd and then they just end up gathering again later in the evening."

Hugh said he did not believe that a criminal psychologist would help, and called for harsher punishments for offenders.

Deputy Commissioner Gaughan defended the police response.

"There's literally thousands of kilometres of roads in Canberra, and particularly if we find these things are occurring in the evening when we're busy responding to other things such as family violence matters, we simply just don't have the resources to get to every location on time," he said.

"So coming up with other other ways of dealing with the matter is important and that's why I welcome the inquiry."

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