By KIERAN FINNANE
Any offence is “one too many” but crime in Alice Springs is “trending downwards”, Commander Danny Bacon told the Town Council last night.
At right: Cdr Bacon in the foreground waiting to make his deputation, while members of the Central Australian Frack Free Alliance ask council to declare a “no-go zone” over Alice Springs’ drinking water aquifer.
This was questioned by Councillor Jade Kudrenko: wasn’t the downward trend from month to month usual for this time of year whereas in reality the figures are still significantly higher “year to date”?
Cdr Bacon agreed. By the end of June, the figures for Alice will be higher year to date than they were last year, but since December the trend is downwards. There was no significant rise in crime last summer, in contrast to previous summers. There had been excellent collaboration between government and non-government agencies. That included council’s “frontline” involvement with its youth engagement patrol (in collaboration with Congress) and its ranger unit.
He is concerned, however, that community “apathy” in contacting police may be leading to under-reporting of offending.
Cr Kudrenko said that, from a council perspective, youth engaging in aggressive behaviour and crime has of late been a “serious and noticeable issue”, affecting all residents in Alice and the town’s profile as a tourist destination.
If it is seen by the public to be escalating, Cdr Bacon replied, then it is not being reported “in a timely manner”.
Youth crime gets a lot of media attention but police know that if you “demonise youth, they become demons themselves”, he said . So it’s important that there is accurate information about youth offending.
There may also be a perception by members of the public that an offence is being committed – for instance, when groups gather in the streets – when in reality there is not an offence.
Nonetheless, youth issues are among the top three priorities for policing in Alice. The others are domestic violence and road safety. In regards to the last, the double fatality in a road accident at the Stuart and Ross Highway intersection last Friday was a big blow.
On youth issues Cr Steve Brown asked “Are we doing all we should?”
Cdr Bacon commented on a “slow uptake” of case management and information sharing by Congress in relation to youths repeatedly engaged with by police or the youth patrol. This is changing now.
As well, there is an inter-agency meeting every week to discuss the situation of youths “coming across their paths” to see whether there are any gaps these youths are falling through.
Police are concerned, however, about truancy by students from “private schools” and more needs to be done in this area.
Cr Brendan Heenan asked whether police thought an after-hours drop-in centre for youths would be beneficial.
Cdr Bacon said that police always find somewhere to place a youth they pick up at night, whether with immediate or extended family or if necessary in statutory care (of the Department of Children and Families).
He didn’t think a drop-in centre would provide “sufficient value” to warrant establishing one, but at the same time he mentioned a “significant gap” in youth activities after-hours.
In response to a question from Mayor Damien Ryan he said police will not be involved in a school holiday program like they were in the summer; their main focus would be on event management over the period.
Cr Eli Melky said he had heard the police may be introducing “canines” into their system.
Cdr Bacon confirmed that police are looking at more “dog operation officers and dogs” for the Southern Command, but their focus is mainly on drug detection. There is one “general purpose” dog in the region, and they are looking to expand to two. They are also looking at another officer and another two drug detection dogs.
Cr Kudrenko expressed concern about a rise in sexual assaults.
Cdr Bacon attributed the rise in part to greater reporting in response to the effectiveness of programs like the Family Safety Framework. However “region-wise” sexual assaults are “trending down” over the last three to four months.
Cr Kudrenko asked too about meth-amphetamine offending – is there an increase?
Cdr Bacon said it is not increasing in Alice where meth users were already drug-users, swapping from another substance to meth. And he said there is no meth in remote communities, an eventuality which would concern police “significantly”.
He said trafficable quantities of meth were mostly destined for elsewhere: with Alice being on the highway, it is always “a drug route”.
By KIERAN FINNANE