Vandals should not be allowed privacy

OPINION

The Mercury's response to Dr Robert Carr's letter

Vigilantism is a loaded term. A neighbourhood watch group could be described as vigilantes; so could many extremist groups who have meted out their brand of violent "justice", including the notorious Ku Klux Klan.

Just to be clear then: the Mercury encourages citizens to tell the police about those who set out to harm property or other people. But we never have and never will condone anyone taking the law into their own hands.

Dr Carr says the Mercury is "advocating for the disregard of proper practice and lawfulness".

Not so. That would be irresponsible, even subversive. What we are doing is engaging in free and open debate about the merits and meaning of those policies and laws. Public debate is the cornerstone of democracy. It should not be stifled. We would hope that as an academic, Dr Carr would agree with us on that.

Read Dr Carr's letter here

Wollongong City Council's policy on the CCTV camera program states that: "Subject to the concurrence or request of the NSW Police, the release of recorded material to the media may be approved by Council. Use of recorded material by the media should only occur to gain public information with respect to the identity of a person's wanted. The recognisable characteristics of other people in the footage shall be obscured."

That is all we are asking: that the footage be released so the culprit - and only the culprit - can be identified.

In regards to the Mercury's exposé of drunken street violence in 2011, Dr Carr accuses the Mercury of "mining for controversy and encouraging vigilantism". He also describes the police publicity campaign to clean up the violence as "misleading and unethical".

We say: Whether or not overall crime figures were declining in 2011, the Illawarra had for several years been suffering a high level of alcohol-related street violence.

At one point, 9 per cent of the state's most violent pubs and clubs were right here in the Illawarra. Several of our nightspots were ranked among the most violent in NSW. The police were quite right to argue for reforms.

Far from encouraging vigilantism, the Mercury's editorial made it very clear that the call to "fight back ... reclaim our streets ... reclaim our CBD" referred to our support for measures that the police were seeking, including earlier closing times and lock-outs.

Since then, various measures have been introduced — and there can be no doubt that they have been highly effective.

In the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing's latest report on the state's most violent venues, only one Illawarra venue made the list - and it was already out of business by the time the report was released in December 2012.

No Illawarra venue was listed among the state's most violent.

We say: If our coverage of the police's "misleading and unethical publicity campaign" against drunken street violence contributed to that improvement, with the result that Wollongong's streets are that much safer for ordinary folk, then that represents real and meaningful progress.

The council says it has a duty to protect this vandal's privacy.

We say: A person who roams around public streets, wantonly destroying or damaging public property, does not deserve to have those criminal acts protected by a cloak of privacy. What this vandal deserves is to be identified, arrested and prosecuted.

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