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ACT police in 2021: from COVID checks to car-ramming prison escapes, it was a busy year fighting crime | The Canberra Times


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The words “unprecedented” and “challenging” have been used often in the past 12 months but among Canberra’s police and other first responders, these descriptions of their year on the front line are entirely apt. Very few, if any, in the ranks of the ACT’s police force have experienced a year quite like it with COVID border checks, explosions, watch house shutdowns and car-ramming prison escapes. It came at a time, too when Canberra’s community police force, which is basically leased from the Australian Federal Police, was in transition to a new so-called police services model and investing heavily in new technology to speed that process. Summernats was cancelled for 2021 but the burnouts hit the city streets in early January. It began with Lonsdale Street in Braddon shut when drivers cruising the area became carried away and police became involved. Burnout hotspots then flared out in front of the Eaglehawk, just over the border, and at Fyshwick, when a bottle was thrown at a police car and smashed the rear windscreen. Entry checks were in full swing at the border zones when the first of the ACT’s 11 road fatalities for 2021 occurred in mid-January, with the body of a 21-year-old motorcyclist discovered well off the road at Paddy’s River. February had barely begun when residents of the quiet leafy suburb of Page, in Belconnen, heard a ruckus from a house in Braine Street early on a Saturday morning and called police. Officers who arrived at the scene had to use their Tasers to subdue and handcuff a bloodied man rushing at them while wielding two knives. They then searched the house to find one man dead – murdered – and two others badly injured. Wajid Kakar, 35, is yet to face trial on the murder and wounding charges. A man was shot twice – once in the stomach and a second time in the jaw – with a sawn-off .22 rifle during an altercation at a house in Spence in March. After losing a great deal of blood, he was kindly dropped off by persons unknown at the Calvary emergency department. Somehow he survived the episode, and three people were arrested but are yet to face trial. Police believed a criminal syndicate was behind the distribution when they roused the occupants of a Palmerston house out of bed early one March morning, seizing 43kg of dried cannabis in vacuum bags and $100,000 in cash. Not far away, a Dunlop resident had decided to go commercial and converted six rooms in a suburban house to a large-scale hydroponic cannabis grow house. Police knocked down the door on April Fools Day but the joke was on the grower, and members of the drug team were there for the best part of day, bagging and tagging, and trucking the weed away. But there were red faces all round at the Winchester Police Centre some days later when Ombudsman Michael Manthorpe released an explosive report which found breaches in the way mobile phone “ping” location data was used to track police suspects. These were not just the odd occasions, but 1713 times over four years. The Confiscation of Criminal Assets (Unexplained Wealth) Amendment Bill, passed by the ACT Assembly in 2020, was given full leverage in May when police seized two properties with a value of $2.8 million. Five other luxury properties and multiple suspicious bank accounts took the tally to more than $10 million. It started when a COVID compliance check turned up an illegal brothel, confirming – as if there was any doubt – there’s good money in the world’s oldest profession. June had mask-wearing ACT traffic officers back on border duty yet again as the Greater Sydney area went into lockdown. Other officers patrolling in the city checked a register and found around 50 guests from the Greater Sydney area staying at a Braddon hotel. All were ordered home. The near-empty roads became an invitation for some drivers to speed and drive recklessly. Over the Queens Birthday long weekend double demerit period, two drivers racked up 12 demerits each for high speed offences and had their licences automatically suspended. And to cap off the month, an 18-year-old driver was clocked at 167km/h in an 80km/h zone on William Hovell Drive. He, too, lost his licence. The danger involved for police in what appeared to be a routine roadside traffic stop became apparent in July when a man deliberately drove at them in a green Laser. Two were thrown onto the bonnet and another officer was trapped underneath. The driver, Thomas Mathews, 30, has been committed for trial. One of the most bizarre incidents during July involved an escape attempt by a prisoner being taken to Canberra Hospital for treatment. The inmate was in custody in a Toyota Camry sedan en route to the hospital when the car was repeatedly rammed along public streets until forced off the road by a stolen Jeep, driven by an accomplice. The prisoner jumped in the Jeep and the pair sped off. The Jeep was later found burnt out on a Forrest street and the prisoner discovered hiding in the roof cavity of a house in Lyneham. Peter Hill later said he thought he was a dead man when he came across a crazed gunman in the carpark of the Abode Hotel in Belconnen in August. Mr Hill was shot in the leg in the incident, which sparked a major police tactical response. The gunman was later arrested and charged. One of the lowest acts of the year was in September, when a group of teenagers robbed a 79-year-old man buying bread at a Belconnen bakery. Police tracked their car leaving the carpark, and with excellent follow-up investigation managed to track down and arrest the main perpetrator. A man was charged with culpable driving when his truck ran a red light on the Barton Highway struck and killed another driver to rack up the eighth road fatality for the year. As the lockdown ended in October, strange things started happening on Canberra’s roads. Speeds went up again, with one P-plater caught doing 170km/h on the Majura Parkway, collisions increased, and drink-driving was again emerging as a major problem. Cocaine and methamphetamine, the predominant illegal drugs of choice in the ACT, were back in the headlines in November when a 4.5kg shipment of meth to a house in Bonner was intercepted. One woman was arrested, and a man a few days later. Meanwhile, on the streets of Braddon, a man was found with $15,000 worth of coke in his car. And inevitably, the year ended with a bang in December when a Belconnen kebab shop exploded with a force which rattled windows several suburbs away. Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:

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