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Arson has surged in Cardinia Shire in the past 12 months, with authorities drawing the link to a rise in stolen cars being set alight.

New crime figures have revealed a 78 per cent increase in the number of arson-related incidents – just short of 100 offences this year – with theft up almost 40 per cent.

Cardinia CFA operations officer Jim Dore said the Pakenham Fire Brigade had already responded to 20 car fires this year.

“We’re not getting a lot of structured wildfires so I would say that most of the increase in arson would be stolen cars being burnt,” Mr Dore said.

“We’ve had a lot of car fires lately. We’ve had four car fires, just stolen and dumped, in the last week.

“Offenders, especially youths, are now stealing registered cars, taking them for a joy ride, doing burnouts and the like, and to get the final thrill, they burn the car.”

Senior Sergeant Nathan Prowd was surprised that the statistics had not showed a greater hike in property damage, which rose by 22 per cent.

He said a small percentage of people were responsible for a large percentage of the crime.

“The vast majority of Cardinia are law-abiding citizens looking for a safe environment to raise their kids,” Sen Sgt Prowd said.

“Often we see the same offenders committing similar kinds of crimes. We target these – what we call recidivist – offenders and with youth crime, we have the opportunity to convene in their offending cycle and get them the help they need.

“We can help identify what it is that’s driving the crime and then link them to agencies where they can get further support with whatever it may be that they’re struggling with: gambling, lack of employment, alcohol, education, drugs or mental health.”

Children aged between 10 and 14 were among the culprits committing property and deception offences, with more than a 30 per cent jump in property damage and burglary offences across this age bracket.

Sen Sgt Prowd attributed the 65 per cent jump in assaults committed by teenagers to an increase in reports of family violence incidents.

“Realistically, there are not a large number of street assaults,” he said.

“There are a number of social factors that cause crime, but family violence incidents are being reported significantly more so than in the past and sometimes these can involve a child-on parent assaults. There are a lot of offences on siblings.

“Even though crime statistics only show recorded offences – people police were able to catch – crime is definitely increasing. About three families move into Cardinia every day, significant youth can drive crime and there are new estates under construction that present the opportunity for crime.”

For the 12 months to 31 March 2016, police recorded 5192 offences in Pakenham. This was up 40 per cent from the 3704 offences recorded for the same period last year.

As well as arson and theft, offences relating to weapons or explosives, deception, public nuisance, dangerous and negligent acts endangering people and blackmail recorded the greatest increase.

Member for Bass, Brian Paynter, said the increases in crime called for political leadership and action in this field.

“The Andrews Government is struggling to keep pace on crime by not dedicating resources and forcing stations to close,” Mr Paynter said.

“Pakenham’s crime figures increased by over 40 per cent in one year and the police station is often closed or shut for periods of time due to lack of resources. This is simply not good enough.

“Law and order is an issue of great concern for our community. Action needs to be taken now for people to feel safe in their own homes.

“The crime rate is going up but the resources on the ground are not able to keep up with the demand. More police are required on the frontline and they are needed now.”

Originally published at Pakenham Gazette.

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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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