By Paul Hemsley
Queensland Premier, civil engineer and former Australian Army Major, Campbell Newman, is taking military targeting technology to the state’s vandalised train system in a bid to catch so-called “graffiti grubs” red-handed at the scene of the crime.
The state government has revealed it has put in thermal cameras and video analytics systems in railway tunnels to detect and target taggers and report them to police as offences occur.
The black-ops tactic is the latest measure in the Newman government’s push against vandals defacing public and private property. State railway assets are a particularly vulnerable target for graffiti vandals because of their relative isolation and the thrill-seeking rush associated with illegally entering dangerous environments of train lines.
Vandalism on railway assets has become a $5.5 million problem according to the Queensland government; but the tagging craze among disaffected youth has chalked up even greater costs across the country and now add-up to $1.5 billion according to conservative estimates from the Australian Institute of Criminology’s (AIC).
Measures taken by the Queensland government have resulted in more than 1000 charges laid against graffiti vandals in 2013, with four arrests in June 2013 resulting from the implementation of the government’s so-called “virtual fence” technology.
The state government has dubbed the “virtual fence” an “invisible weapon” in its unambiguously named “war on graffiti” that is centred along the Gold Coast-Beenleigh rail line that now uses thermal cameras and video analytics to detect vandals and instantly fire-off alerts back to the state government’s security centre.
But the new system is not the only weapon in the counter-graffiti arsenal. Governments have also been installing covert technologies inconspicuously hidden behind walls that can “sniff” the spray paint fumes. Another approach has been harnessing smart phone cameras, signature recognition and geospatial technologies to join the dots and make geospatial patterns from suspected the tags of trouble makers.
However those caught are getting the low tech treatment. Queensland Minister for Local Government, David Crisafulli recently announced that he will send vandals who are caught or admit to offences back to scrubbing school through a requirement to participate in a graffiti removal program so they are “made to clean up their own mess”.
The Queensland government believes the new “virtual fence” technology is so discreet that the vandals won’t even know that they have been detected until the police arrive to arrest them.
Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads, Scott Emerson said “we’re sick and tired of these grubs on our network and our clear message is you will get caught”.
Mr Emerson has also pledged the government will be launching a new trial using “military grade” buried sensor cables that will detect vandals and activate alarms at the security centre.
The campaign by the Queensland government to wipe out graffiti has also triggered the imposition of steep fines for convicted taggers of more than $8000.
The law enforcement crackdown has also been intensified through the creation of a joint operation across several locations with the Queensland Police Railway Squad, which was conducted in June and resulted in multiple charges against 11 graffiti vandals.
Mr Emerson claimed that the vandals apprehended came as far afield as Victoria to target the Queensland railway network.
He chronicled the progress of the state police investigations on the Gold Coast line, which resulted in three males being charged, with one pleading guilty and the other being fined $4,880. But another fine doubled that amount at $8,610 when another offender was caught in Beenleigh in April and also received a sentence of 100 hours of community service.
The Ipswich line has also received attention after Railway Squad officers pressed more than 200 graffiti-related charges against a single alleged tagger in July 2013.
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