Focus on violence, hoons

Superintendent Jo Stafford, who oversees Greater Dandenong, Casey and Cardinia police service areas.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

The South East’s new police boss lists family violence and hooning as among her greatest priorities.

Superintendent Jo Stafford – a former nurse and a police officer for 25 years – told Star News that she wants police who help “make our community a better place”.

Supt Stafford says it’s not enough to just focus on traditional policing issues.

There’s a need to “rise to the challenge” to tackle complex issues such as family violence alongside of other agencies like child protection, councils and emergency housing.

“Family violence is at the heart of everything.

“If you can keep a family safe and ensure the children are brought up in a loving environment, it sets them up for a better future.”

In a current operation, police have renewed focus on “high-risk“ family violence offenders.

In the past two months, 37 of them in the South East have been arrested and brought before courts.

According to official crime stats, Greater Dandenong and Casey’s family violence offences have fallen in the 12 months up to March 2022.

In the past year, Casey’s offences fell from 1402 to 1320.

However, incidents were up by a third in Cardinia, from 332 to 445 – perhaps partly attributable to steep population growth.

Higher numbers of family violence reports can also show that more victims are confident enough to coming forward.

It’s important to build that trust, Supt Stafford says.

And for victims to know that police – including dedicated family-violence detectives – will respond, investigate, and hold offenders to account.

Hooning has been another focus for South East police, including a community forum in Casey last week.

Since June 2021, police have arrested 22 high-risk hoons in the South East and laid more than 400 charges.

Across the state, 240 offenders have been charged and 150 cars impounded.

Supt Stafford says hoon activity has in turn declined.

But she urged the public to report hoon gatherings on triple-0 or Crime Stoppers before there’s harm on the roads. CCTV and dash-cam footage is particularly useful.

She cites an anonymous tip-off on Crime Stoppers on the afternoon of Tuesday 26 July, warning of a “high-risk driving event” planned that night.

On the prolific rise of scams via phone, text, online and door-knocking, Supt Stafford warned people to be vigilant.

“Certainly as we’re all aware, the online world provides a really good playground for people who want to scam.

“We urge people to be vigilant and to report any unusual activity. If in doubt about an email message or link, make sure you check if it is safe.”

Supt Stafford also responded to recent fatal shootings, including one in Cranbourne on 29 June and Noble Park on 11 July.

Neither of those shootings were linked to outlaw bikie gangs. Most of the OMCG shootings had occurred in Melbourne’s North West, she noted.

“I want to assure the South East that we understand if you see a shooting in your back yard or on the other side of the street it makes you feel unsafe.

“We understand that gun violence can really make community members feel shaken and we will not stand for it.

“Everyone involved in that activity can expect a swift response from police. We have zero tolerance for any kind of violent criminal behaviour, particularly when it involves firearms any other type of weapon.”

Supt Stafford highlighted some crimes were at their lowest rates for some years, including thefts from vehicles, serious assaults and robbery.

“A big part of it is being proactive, using our resources to focus on those areas of greatest community concern.”

A Victoria Police officer for 25 years, Supt Stafford brings an unconventional array of experience.

Just two years after being recruited, she questioned her vocation due to a police shooting

She took time out to travel overseas, and studied and worked in emergency-and-trauma nursing at Melbourne hospitals.

At one point, she juggled policing, nursing and parenting at the same time.

In 2016, it got to the stage that she had to opt for one career path.

She chose full-time policing – serving on the front-line, media and comms, professional standards command unit, investigating sexual offences and child abuse, as well as training officers.

“I love policing. It’s an exciting job.

“It has so much meaning in terms of what drives people, to give back to your community and make your community a better place.

“As I’ve got older and had more experience and investing in the next generation of police officers coming up the ranks with juniors that are so committed.

“It’s a pleasure working every day.”