Top cop’s harsh message for ‘gangster’ teens
"THIS isn't a video game - you will either die or go to jail."
It's the blunt message to Queensland's "gangster" teens from Detective Superintendent Brendan Smith, the top cop not afraid to tell it like it is.
When Brisbane teen Cian English plunged to his death from a Surfers Paradise high-rise balcony last month - after allegedly being stabbed, tortured and assaulted by other teens - Supt Smith spoke for the former Churchie student's shattered family and friends, and a fed-up community.
It was the latest in a spate of knife-related deaths on the Gold Coast involving young people, and the straight-shooting Supt Smith did not hold back - giving it to "gangster" youths with both barrels.
"For some reason, they (teenagers) think it's cool to have that gangster mindset and they've got to carry a knife to be cool," he said at the time. "It takes other kids to go, 'Hey, don't do this; you're an idiot'."
Revealing that two teen girls had also been charged in relation to Mr English's death - after they allegedly encouraged and videoed his assault for social media - Supt Smith again did not mince words.
"As a parent, I can't understand how this would occur.
"I know if my daughter - when she was 16 - if she wasn't at home, I'd be asking the question, 'Where the hell is she?'. Why aren't parents doing that today? You've got a 19-year-old male that has died tragically and you've got people who don't seem to care."
It's refreshingly forthright language from a senior cop, but Supt Smith says "police-speak" often just doesn't cut it, especially when trying to give knife-toting teenagers and their parents a wake-up call.
"Young people need to understand the consequences of their actions," he told The Courier-Mail in an interview in his Gold Coast police headquarters office, across the road from where Cian English died.
"This isn't a video game - you will either die or go to jail."
Straight-talking is a signature of Supt Smith, a 37-year Queensland Police Service veteran who has spent most of his career as a detective.
Since graduating from the police academy in 1983 fresh out of high school, he has served all over the state, from Mornington Island to Fortitude Valley.
Before taking up the high-profile job of southeastern police regional crime co-ordinator six months ago - overseeing major crime investigations on the Gold Coast and in Logan - his roles included detective inspector with the Coroner's Office and bikie-busting Taskforce Maxima.
"It (becoming a police officer) was probably something I always wanted to do," he said. "We've all had bad times, but I always look forward to going to work. I love the camaraderie and how every day is different - you just don't know what's going to happen."
Supt Smith joined Taskforce Maxima as soon as it was set up following the infamous 2013 Broadbeach bikie brawl, when a "lynch mob" of Bandidos outlaw motorcycle gang members ran riot in the busy dining hub before laying siege to Southport police station.
As officer in charge of Maxima's tactical division, Supt Smith led countless raids using the then Newman government's controversial anti-gang laws to smash the bikies.
Thousands of bikies and associates were arrested and millions of dollars in drugs, illegal weapons and proceeds of crime seized.
"It was extremely challenging because the demand from the community and government at that time was unparalleled. They wanted the bikies stopped, and I think we've gone a long way towards achieving that - although it hasn't finished. The tactical side of Maxima was the (public) face, because we were doing the daily law enforcement - the door-kicking.
"We wanted to show the community that these people weren't untouchable and that we were getting results."
Supt Smith says one of his most satisfying achievements in Maxima was busting bikies for victim-based offences such as assault, extortion and domestic violence.
"Prior to that, people didn't complain about bikies - they were terrified. Extortion complaints went up 97 per cent during that period. I don't think the actual activity increased, but people felt confident to come forward. To me it showed the public had confidence in what we were doing."
Supt Smith's frank style came to the fore in media conferences he gave after almost daily raids against the bikies. "They're sophisticated gangs," he said after one major bust in 2014. "People think they're old guys on motorbikes but it's not the case - they're criminals."
And the bikie landscape now? "I suppose they've (bikies) lost, in the main, the ability to intimidate.
"You used to see them wandering around in their costumes and the general public were fearful. That's not there anymore. They're (bikies) still there and we know that, but we're making great inroads."
Supt Smith says the Gold Coast and Logan are well served by a team of about 300 dedicated detectives, working to solve crimes such as the recent double-murder of former bikie Shane Ross and his business partner, Cameron Martin.
Two Lone Wolf outlaw motorcycle gang members were charged with the execution-style slayings in a Tallebudgera park last October. Supt Smith says it was one of the most complex investigations in which he has been involved, with detectives stonewalled by the infamous bikie "code of silence".
"It was certainly a very satisfying moment the day those guys hit the bin because right at the very beginning, we had nothing. It was one of the most complex jobs I've been involved with and I can't praise the investigative team enough for their innovation in how they solved it."
Supt Smith has been outspoken on knife crime after the tragedies surrounding Cian English, and fellow teenagers Harrison Geppert and Jack Beasley (both stabbed to death on the Gold Coast late last year). He says heartbroken families should not have to set up organisations such as the Jack Beasley Foundation to counter knife crime.
And the father of three adult children says slack parents have a lot to answer for.
"Look, I know from personal experience that parenting can be tough - my mum worked multiple jobs raising my brother and I after my dad died when I was seven - so I'd encourage families to seek help if they need it.
"It's around changing community attitudes - it's not OK to carry a knife. If your 16-year-old kid is out in the middle of the night, why is that happening? Why don't you know this? Or, if you do, why are you condoning it? Kids need to have a social life but they also need to have limits. Once they've got an older head, they'll think back that mum and dad weren't that stupid."
Despite a public perception that youth crime, in particular, is out of control, Supt Smith does not believe it is. He also rejects suggestions of a "soft" youth justice system.
"Research has clearly shown that if we use cautioning methods appropriately, most young people are steered away from the justice system.
"Youth justice is a complex thing but crime is complex. The underlying issues behind crime - mental health, poverty, drug use, alcohol, dysfunctional homes - there's lots of things that create the crime problem.
"I can't stress it enough - it's about the families taking some ownership on the behaviours of the children.
"It's a community effort. Parents have a role particularly - they need to set limits, provide guidance to young people. And their peers - their peers need to pull them up and say, 'Hey, don't be an idiot - this is not appropriate'.
"Every person should be able to go out and come home safely."
Originally published as Top cop's harsh message for 'gangster' teens