‘Unchecked’ violence on the rise among Melbourne’s rival street gangs

‘Unchecked’ violence on the rise among Melbourne’s rival street gangs

February 13, 2023

Escalating violence between Melbourne’s rival street gangs has become a major source of concern for police, who say they’ve seen a shift from street-based offending to serious organised crime.

Police say street gang members are increasingly turning to drug trafficking and other serious criminal activities that were traditionally the realm of outlaw motorcycle gangs and criminal syndicates.

Viper taskforce Detective Inspector Craig Darlow with two members of the unit.Credit:Joe Armao

“Their propensity to use violence just goes unchecked,” acting Senior Sergeant Travis Baxter said. “They have a high level of violence among themselves … and the other youth gangs.”

Tensions between warring groups soared in the aftermath of Tarneit teenager Hashim Mohamed’s fatal stabbing in St Kilda in December, and sparked fears that gang members and friends of the teenager could engage in retaliatory attacks.

Suspected teen gangs have been linked to home invasions, armed robberies and car thefts in recent months.

Officers on the Viper taskforce, an anti-gang unit launched by Victoria Police last July, also recently cracked down on a street gang advertising cocaine for sale on social media, by swooping on two properties in Melbourne’s south-east and charging six people with weapons and drug offences in December.

Suspected gang members were allegedly found with two loaded handguns, ammunition, a taser, an extendable baton, knuckle dusters, cash believed to be proceeds of crime, cannabis and cocaine.

Viper Detective Inspector Craig Darlow said gang members had become serial offenders, who often committed several crimes in a row.

“They might steal a car, then they’ll do a petrol drive-off, then they’ll do a burglary, then they might do an assault or a robbery,” he said. “It’s multiple offending by the same cohort.”

Dismantling street gangs has become a key focus of the Viper taskforce, which Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said last year was created to disrupt outlaw motorcycle gangs and organised crime networks.

The taskforce utilises the resources from several police units, including highway patrols and experts from the criminal proceed and drug squads, to strike the criminal networks from multiple fronts.

Created after a review of the force’s crime command two years earlier, it was designed to disrupt organised crime by making it as hostile as possible for networks to operate. That includes conducting bail conditions checks, enforcing prohibition orders and searching vehicles.

In the six months since its creation, taskforce officers have charged more than 200 people with 762 alleged offences, intercepted more than 1300 vehicles and used 155 search warrants.

They have seized drugs on 400 occasions, taken possession of 41 firearms and imitation guns and uncovered more than $1 million believed to be the proceeds of crime, including a $600,000 Lamborghini.

Darlow said Viper’s ability to deploy officers to any location across the state at short notice was key to its success.

The taskforce was able to deploy a team of 25 officers to Bairnsdale, in east Gippsland, in November after receiving information the Finks Outlaw Motorcycle Club was seeking to establish a chapter there.

Officers arrested 12 people during a series of firearm prohibition order compliance checks and charged a 20-year-old with trafficking methylamphetamine.

“I think the fact that we can turn up at any given time and conduct the firearm prohibition order compliance searches has been a bit of a game-changer,” Darlow said.

Detective Senior Sergeant Leigh Howse. Credit:Joe Armao

Viper was shelved for more than a year due to the pandemic but was brought back in the first half of 2022 as Melbourne was rocked by a string of shootings.

The most prominent one was the daylight ambush of former Mongols bikie and kickboxer Suleiman “Sam” Abdulrahim, who was shot multiple times in the chest as he left a funeral in his car.

Detective Senior Sergeant Leigh Howse, Viper’s architect, said the number of arrests, charges and property seized over the past six months showed the taskforce was having an impact.

“Certainly, we’ve identified that people are talking about us,” Howse said.

Baxter, the acting senior sergeant, said: “You get members from crime groups saying, ‘I was wondering when you were going to show up at my door.’”

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