Children are being used by criminal gangs to commit crimes with children stealing cars and celebrating their exploits on social media, a police chief has warned, amid the mysterious death of a 12-year-old boy.
Australian teenagers are now being swept into organized crime networks with widely circulated videos promoting serious criminal behavior online, New South Wales Police Commissioner Karen Webb said.
Young people are easily influenced by videos shared online and criminal gangs are exploiting their vulnerabilities, including asking them to climb through dog doors to rob homes, Commissioner Webb told the Today show on Thursday morning.
It comes after the mysterious death of 12-year-old Wayne Russell, who was found with extensive injuries near Wollongong around 2am on Tuesday morning.
Paramedics found him at what is believed to be a friend’s address after being dropped off in a silver car, he was later taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
There are also concerns about the ‘creeping while you sleep’ hashtag – predominantly used to show underage drivers driving cars at night – as it continues to go viral on TikTok.
New South Wales Police Commissioner Karen Webb (pictured) has established a new youth crime task force as police and parents express concern over the recent rise in youth crime and online ‘bragging’
“It is of great concern to me and commissioners across Australia that we have young people as young as 12, under 12 involved in crime,” Commissioner Webb said as she launched a new youth crime taskforce.
“Whether it’s youth gangs coming together, young kids coming together with knives, or young people breaking into cars, stealing cars, enjoying driving and using social media platforms to record their feats and then brag about (them).
‘And that is to create a movement. So other kids do it.’
In terms of online trends, promote videos of teenagers appearing to drive around stolen cars in the early hours of the morning, with some even boasting news reports covering teenage accidents.
Commissioner Webb said it is particularly important for police to stamp out youth cars as young drivers pose a huge threat to communities.
A stolen black Holden Barina crashed into a traffic light at Towradgi, in Wollongong, south of Sydney, in the early hours of Tuesday morning (pictured)
Commissioner Webb (pictured on the Today Show, Thursday morning) said youngsters are learning criminal tricks from more experienced criminals and videos shared by criminals online
‘They are 12, they can barely touch the pedals and the steering wheel and see over the dashboard,’ she explained.
‘The concern for us is that we have young children who can be easily influenced and used by older people – whether they are 17-year-olds or whether they are actually adults – to commit crime.’
Commissioner Webb said the stolen cars are often used to commit further crimes, noting: “a speeding car is a weapon”.
She also said pre-teens learn criminal tricks from bad influences both on the street and online.
‘We’ve had 12-year-olds go in through a doggy door to steal. A 12-year-old doesn’t learn it by himself. They are used to commit serious adult crime,’ she explained.
“I guess the concern for us is that they’re starting younger, and we don’t want to see any kids in prison, but certainly, as a society, we have to address this.”
Twelve-year-old Wayne has been deeply mourned after his mysterious midnight death has shocked parents across the country.
The young boy who died at a friend’s home under mysterious circumstances on Tuesday morning has been identified as 12-year-old Wayne Russell (above), but what caused his fatal injuries is yet to be determined
Half an hour before paramedics found Wayne, police rushed to the sound of a huge bang in Towradgi, Wollongong.
However, police found that some previous occupants of the vehicle had fled the vehicle – with only the bodywork of a Holden Barina left at the scene.
The car had been reported stolen on Saturday afternoon.
Pants paid tribute to the ‘polite’ youngster online and in the Wollongong community.
‘Gone way before your time little friend! You will be missed by all who met you. A smile that lit up a room and the best anyone could have. You were always so polite to me and a great mate to my boys…’ the mother of two of Wayne’s school friends wrote on social media.
Wayne’s parents have revealed that even they are not aware of the exact circumstances surrounding his tragic death.
Police rushed to the Towradgi Road crash (above) after the sound ‘like a bomb going off’ echoed through the streets, only to find the car empty, its doors open and the passengers fleeing
Carjacking is just one of the many activities glorified in widely circulated TikTok videos, other widely circulated clips show users showing off the proceeds of alleged criminal dealing and gun ownership.
Along with the launch of the new Youth Crime Task Force, Commissioner Webb and top officers from other states are strategizing with other agencies to tackle the rise in youth crime.
She said children need a sense of belonging, adding: “We want them to belong to something more meaningful like sports or any other activity that keeps kids busy”.
“It’s not a nine-to-five problem. Most of this activity is at night. We’re all home in bed, but they’re out at night, in the middle of the night.’