Youth on the street at night: moving beyond ‘the pointy end’

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Above: Todd Street, from where the after hours bus service picks up young people to take them home. Archival CCTV image courtesy Alice Springs Town Council (with no suggestion of anyone doing anything wrong in this gathering.) 

 

By KIERAN FINNANE

Originally posted 16 August 2016, modified 19 August 2016, 11.55am.

 

Alice Springs police will at least double the number of police in the “youth engagement area” – currently six. And the emphasis will be on engagement over enforcement, Assistant Commissioner Jeanette Kerr told the Alice Springs Town Council this week.

 

“Youth issues” make for one of the top three areas of focus for Southern Operations for which she has overall responsibility. The other two are domestic violence and “community engagement” – “alcohol goes without saying”.

 

p2347 Jeanette Kerr 1On the domestic violence front, the focus of last week’s inquest, Asst Commissioner Kerr (at right) said she is impressed with the commitment of many working in the field and proud of the new levels of trust and cooperation that are being achieved between government and non-government agencies. This has led to recent examples of very rapid provision of information about high risk offenders – “not something that has not happened in the past”. This led to the offenders’ arrest, helping keep their potential victims safe.

 

A similar collaborative approach is being taken on the youth front. The NT Government has already established Taskforce Neo, bringing together senior-ranking personnel across government to take a “strategic approach” to youth issues. On the ground there also exists an inter-agency case management group, but there was “nothing in between”.

 

Now a new body is bringing together NGOs, local government, and government agencies, who met last week for the first time. Asst Commissioner Kerr spoke of the good will at this “fantastic” first meeting, but also stressed that the focus is on action: “People who come have to be able to make decisions on behalf of their agencies, have to be able to apply resources, have to be able to commit to work together.”

 

The work of this group that will support the inter-agency case management, but also “move us away from the really pointy end of youth issues” when it is  “usually too late to intervene”.

 

In their work with young people, Asst Commissioner Kerr wants to see police valuing engagement over enforcement. This cannot rely simply on the school-based constable model, as many young people are not in school.

 

So police are already out on the street, often after hours, actively engaging with young people they meet there, working with the youth patrol, and this is already paying dividends. She gave the example of a group of young girls “probably causing a little bit of ruckus around town but nothing really serious” . They are now coming into the police station and asking for some of these police officers by name – a “pretty awesome” result, reflecting a level of trust that has been built up.

 

She spoke of the importance of a full program of after-hours activities, naming Midnight Basketball as one example. She had seen this initiative work well during her years in Katherine. In Alice it is being pursued by a committee that includes Cr Jamie de Brenni.

 

But Asst Commissioner Kerr is very conscious of not making too many assumptions about what young people want. Not all young people are interested in sport , for instance, and there’s a need to cater also for them. To hear from young people themselves, she spoke about partnering with the Town Council in its youth forum, to talk to young people about “what they want to achieve and what they see the problems as”.

 

Meanwhile, what is the size of the problem? How many young people are on the streets “after hours” in downtown Alice? A record is kept by Town Council rangers of those who use the after hours bus service to get dropped off at home and could provide some indication.

 

The monthly reporting to the Town Council is, however, a total of pick-ups / drop-offs and not of individuals. In the month of July, for example – during which the bus service operated seven nights a week for the first three weeks coinciding with school holidays, then dropped back to three nights for the last week – there were in all 1419 pick-ups / drop-offs. But how many individual users were involved? That we do not know.

 

The Alice Springs News Online has been asking for this figure, so far without success.

 

At last Monday’s council committee meeting, Councillor Jade Kudrenko also wanted to know about individuals, rather than pick-ups / drop-offs.

 

Recently appointed Director of Corporate and Community Services, Skye Price, acknowledged that “there may be instances where a person utilises the service on more than one occasion in an evening or a week”, but she said “we do not extrapolate the data” to the point of being able to say how many individuals are involved.

 

Cr Kudrenko commented that “into the future, that is going to be the information that most people are interested in, how many young people are out there accessing this service.”

 

Ms Price said council has “started to have some preliminary conversations with our partner, [Central Australian Aboriginal] Congress, about the data and with the NT Government about what’s acceptable to be made public”.

 

To the Alice Springs News Online after the meeting, Ms Price said the councillor had given a clear direction that the issue be looked at more closely, which her service would do while adhering to the requirements of their funding agreement, their partnership with Congress, and privacy legislation.

 

 

 

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