30 Dec Alice Springs youth crime: NT Police, youth workers and the…
It’s a weekday evening in Alice Springs, the clock is edging towards 10:00pm and the temperature is still in the high 30s; but youth worker Nathan Coelli’s workday is only just beginning.
Mr Coelli is a Northern Territory Government youth outreach and re-engagement officer, or YOREO.
He’s one of 10 officers who patrol the town centre until 3:00am each night, seven nights a week, 365 days a year.
As he walks through the paved streets, Mr Coelli spots two police officers on bicycles and stops for a chat.
They tell him about an incident with about 15 kids earlier in the evening throwing rocks, with cops now heading to another part of the CBD to monitor the area.
As Mr Coelli explains, the YOREOs often work with police to report anything untoward.
The YOREO team was launched almost six months ago in a bid to reduce youth anti-social behaviour, one of many programs from the government and other organisations which aim to tackle the issue.
But despite the many initiatives, some people in Alice Springs say not enough is being done to curb bad behaviour — and have reported an anecdotal spike in youth crime.
However, NT Police insist the town is not in the middle of a crisis, with statistics showing year-on-year assaults and crimes against the person are down in Alice Springs.
Mr Coelli said the work he and his team were doing made a difference.
“The kids that we deal with, we’ve built good relationships with them [and] some of their families,” he said.
“It’s quite challenging work, but we are trying, it’s a slow process but we’re building all the time.”
Mr Coelli’s job is to chat with kids out on the street at night and arrange for the youth bus to take them home. He also works with youth centres and other pick-up services throughout the night.
“There can be anywhere from 50 kids out at night, up to a couple of hundred, most kids are just walking around, hanging around with each other and being teenagers,” he said.
“I think we really are making a difference; I’ve seen families actually bring their children in and ask for help and assistance, which is a really big thing.”
‘We’ve had enough’
In the early hours of December 1, NT Police received reports of eight assaults in Alice Springs which led to some people being hospitalised.
Six of the incidents took place in Alice Springs town centre, one of which involved someone’s jaw being broken.
While NT Police confirmed it was investigating at least three assaults, it was unable to confirm if any arrests had been made.
The incidents sparked heavy discussion about anti-social behaviour.
Alice Springs resident Matt Gridley is now considering leaving town, as his son was one of the people injured during the spate of attacks.
“It’s a phone call no parent ever wants to receive at 3:00am in the morning: ‘Your son’s been bashed and he’s in the hospital and you need to get up there ASAP,'” he said.
He said his 21-year-old son Mitch was walking on his own after leaving a bar on Sunday, December 1 and was attacked by about 12 youths after being asked for a cigarette.
Mitch was first punched in the back of the head and then struck several times, Mr Gridley said.
“It’s disgusting. For the first time in [the] 30 years that my family has lived here, we’re now considering leaving. It’s as simple as that, we’ve had enough.”
Several businesses have adapted their operations to deal with what they describe as increased harassment and theft from young people.
An adult shop had spent more than $2,000 on a new airlock entrance, to vet anyone coming inside, after the owner received multiple harmful threats towards herself and her dog.
Silvana Placentino, who owns and runs a lolly and craft shop, now locks her door during opening hours, and customers need to knock or ring the doorbell to come in.
“It has to be shut, because I can’t control all of a sudden 10 kids, under the age of 10 or 12, from the age of about six, swarming the shop,” she said.
“It’s like a grab free-for-all, I can’t run the business like that, it’s awful.”
Ms Placentino said locking the door had stopped the theft and harassment, but affected business.
Despite the constant troubles, she rarely contacts police, saying she does not want to bother them or waste resources on a stolen $2 bag of lollies. Ms Placentino feels reporting it will not stop the behaviour.
‘Facts versus perception’
Despite community concern about a spike in crime, police statistics tell a different story.
Year-on-year assaults and crimes against the person are down in Alice Springs, though house break-ins are up by more than 10 per cent.
NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker lived in the town for many years, and said it was frustrating to police when crimes went unreported.
“I think the challenges are dealing with what’s in the public domain, and whether that’s truly reflective of the facts, versus what perception is and what the true motivations are behind some of the messaging that’s going out,” Mr Chalker said.
“If we keep falling back to the belief that we can arrest our way out of this problem then that’s more indicative of a society that I think needs to have a look at itself.”
‘Coming from trauma’
Representatives from more than 10 Aboriginal organisations met in recent weeks to discuss strategies to curb youth crime.
Arrernte woman and traditional healer Margie Lynch was in the meeting, as part of the Strong Grandmothers Group of the central desert region, and agreed there had been an increase in activity by Aboriginal youth on the streets.
“Children don’t want to be home because there’s a lot of problems with drugs and alcohol that’s affecting their parents or their families, and families who visit their home,” Ms Lynch said.
“I think for them [the young people] they see a sense of security amongst each other, and they end up on the streets to move away from what’s happening back at home
“I think it’s mixed emotions, a crisis situation, but it’s coming from trauma.”
In NT Parliament on November 27, Independent Member for Araluen Robyn Lambley proposed a bill which would force young kids in Alice Springs off the streets, but this was rejected.
On December 9, Alice Springs Town Council voted down a youth curfew put forward by Councillor Eli Melky which aimed to stop antisocial behaviour from young people.
NT Police has also said it does not support a curfew.
Ms Lynch agreed a curfew was not the answer and said the police, community and government could work together to find a solution.
The 10 organisations are calling for immediate funding for critical services in the community, as well as increased security lighting in problem areas.
Ms Lynch said they had requested an urgent meeting with the NT Government and had put forward a proposal to create a youth drop-in centre, to operate between midnight and 8am, seven days a week.
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