Gold Coast's dangerous mix of wealthy beachfront and canal estates, a congested nightclub precinct, and new arrivals wanting to join the rich real quick, has changed the tourist strip from a surfers' paradise to a gangsters' heaven."I think the concentration of amphetamines, nightclubs and playground atmosphere, along with the worship of consumer goods like houses and cars, is a potential fireball for crime and, probably, violent crime," Professor Wilson told The Sunday Mail.
Cut again to some more action, this time at a Hedges Ave mansion in the wealth belt along Mermaid Beach.The scene: we're inside a recognisable beachfront property, as famous for its price tag as much as for its owners, who have included its builder, the showbiz promoter Michael Edgley, who once rented the beach pad to pop diva Diana Ross.Former Melbourne milk magnate Ken Lacey and his wife Madeleine are inside the property now, and it is filled with police. This is a raid, and the police are after drugs.They find a firearms silencer in a Versace shoe box. A photograph shows the Laceys' elder son, Jade, with a gun.He has been profiled in the Coast media about launching his music career in the United States as a rapper, but until this moment in January 2006 his photograph is yet to feature on a police brief.The skinny kid from St Michael's College has bulked up a bit since leaving school and rents a unit in Broadbeach's Albert Ave, just a few blocks from the nightclub and cafe precinct and not too far from Mum and Dad.A mate of Jade, who worked as a security guard in Broadbeach, arrived bloodied at the unit after an unprovoked beating inside a nightclub.He later alleged the gun he used to shoot a man in his upper arm was obtained from Jade.Jade is arrested on drugs and weapons charges but his father Ken tells a summary trial that his son, then aged 23, is "right against marijuana" and "all types of drugs".Magistrate Ron Kilner finds the offences at the "lower end of the scale", fines Jade $1000 and does not record any convictions.But keep watching, because this storyline is only just developing.Jade and younger brother Dionne are wearing suits and shirts in the style of the US rap stars they idolise when they surrender to police in May 2007. They are arrested at the office of their Southport lawyer Chris Nyst over the killing of Nerang landscaper Kevin Palmer.
Dionne, 22, was found guilty last week by a Supreme Court jury of Mr Palmer's manslaughter. Jade, 26, was found guilty of unlawful wounding. Both said they acted in self-defence.The jury heard Jade, who gave evidence on his own behalf, admit he often carried a loaded gun, even when at dinner with his grandmother, because he believed it was "tough".That remark grabbed everyone's attention because Prof Wilson, senior police and experienced criminal lawyers such as Coast solicitor Bill Potts, had not heard before of anyone other than bikie criminals carrying guns in public on the tourist strip.But Mr Potts, who has an office just down from the daily passing parade of crims at the Southport Courthouse, is seeing changes in the Coast's gun culture which frighten him.Possession of guns decreased after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, but there have been some recent disturbing signs.Young druggies are not just arming themselves with knives any more."And there's no point in having a gun unless you use it and want to bring fear to other people," Mr Potts said. "The carrying of them inevitably leads to them being used."
Cut to more action, this time inside the Burleigh police criminal investigation branch, where detectives are working fast to retrieve closed-circuit security footage of the bashing of an off-duty officer and his girlfriend by a gang of youths.
Inspector Marc Hogan presses the "play" button again, and from different angles cameras catch the chilling street assault by up to 20 youths, who king-hit the officer and then drag his girlfriend to the ground by her hair and bash her.
The footage shows it is 1am in Dutton St in central Coolangatta on November 17, 2007, and these teens and sub-teens are running from all corners of the intersection to join in, high-fiving each other as the couple lie bleeding on the footpath.
They're small kids. Insp Hogan, asked how old they might be, takes a closer look before replying: "There are kids there judging by their size, who look to be about 10 years of age. When I saw this, I had to wonder, 'Do their parents know their kids are out and about this time in the morning?' "Southport District Court is later told one of the boys – 11 at the time – feared that if he yelled out to pedestrians to help the policeman and his partner, he might be bashed by his mates.The female face of the attack, Tiani Slockee, 18, from Chinderah in New South Wales, is placed on two years' probation after being convicted of assault causing bodily harm while in company.Keep watching. Slockee is in a car chase with police, this time at Broadbeach in January this year.She walks free from court again after Magistrate Dermot Kehoe concedes she would face a lengthy wait for blood-alcohol results.
Crime on the Gold Coast has changed, evolved.The prospects of being mugged on Cavill Ave or having your wallet pinched from underneath your towel while you had a swim seem like misty memories of a simpler time.The Chinderah kids are just one of several aspects of gangland on the Gold Coast, senior police say.Some Coast teenagers are bred into the crime culture through their early experimenting with drugs, which brings them into contact with bikies.Some view crime from an entrepreneurial perspective, selling drugs to join the rich.Others begin their apprenticeship in youth gangs like those just across the border in northern NSW, starting with a bit of graffiti before launching into assaults.Also in the mix are established outlaws from Sydney and other countries dropping in to the Coast. Many of the gangs are ethnic-based and out to make a quick buck."The bikie gangs are here, and we have Russian organised crime. It is transient," a policeman said.
"We appear to be becoming very attractive for many NSW crime elements. There's a lot of interstate stuff, like skimming, where these criminals will watch you put in your credit card at an ATM and take down your details."We have professional shoplifters who will come in, steal and leave town."Drug deals and stolen cars no longer raise an eyebrow.In recent times, headlines have been created by road-rage executions on the side of the highway, the abduction and robbery of a bank manager, the brutal slaying of a husband and wife at separate locations, and a husband and mistress plotting the execution of his wife.Gold Coast crime has gone prime time.
When Arch McDonald arrived in town and began work on the Surfers Paradise police beat in 1994, he thought twice about moving his family to join him."As a young policeman, I thought I might not bring my children here to Surfers. But after I met people in the suburbs it was just like any other place," Mr McDonald said.
"The Coast has had a fairly violent history, unfortunately. The reputation it holds doesn't reflect on the good done by a lot of people."He retired after six years, but remains close to the city's heart as president of Surfers Paradise RSL.
"I've got several theories (about Coast crime), and the simplest is the fact that we have so many people who are not native-born and bred in the place," Mr McDonald said.
More than three million domestic tourists visited the Coast during 2008, and many of them return for a permanent stay.Some guests are more notorious than others. Melbourne underworld kings Carl Williams and Tony Mokbel used to enjoy some free time on the Coast, with regular and lengthy stays at top spots such as the Versace resort.An earlier generation of Mr Bigs, such as Sydney's Lennie McPherson and hitman Christopher Dale Flannery, had their own digs on the Coast, with caretakers looking after their holiday homes."It's a microcosm of all cultures here. They bring with them the issues of their culture, or how they were treated as kids," Mr McDonald said.To solve it, to reduce this element of organised crime, Mr McDonald argues that the region's young policemen need stronger back-up from civic leaders and parents in a city yet to reach maturity."It's the best training ground. Most young policemen who come here enjoy an extensive career and reach the highest echelons because of the experience here," he said.The city is immature because parents who arrive to live "see the beach and other entertainment and they relax and don't understand that young people are led astray".
"I do believe the civic leaders (Gold Coast City councillors) don't march to the same tune. The whole of the city needs to be brought together."
Gold Coast police superintendent Jim Keogh agrees that the policing environment is tough, and that the transient nature of the population does not help. Rather than generations of criminals in one family, there are just new and unknown crooks.
"It's a challenging environment. You have to deal with all facets, from juvenile crime to organised crime," Supt Keogh said.And television series such as Underbelly, he concedes, just add gloss to what some kids perceive as the glamour of organised crime."Some kids are influenced by TV. There is no two ways about it. Some of them see these guys as folk heroes in their eyes," Supt Keogh said.