Summer crime calls for thinking outside the box


p2402 clownAlice Springs may well find the elusive solution to its law and order problems in Colombia: Clowns succeed where cops are failing, writes RICHARD BENTLEY. As for home-grown efforts, the three Rotary clubs in Alice could come up with answers to the summer crime spree triggering the usual Facebook fury (excerpts below), he writes in our Rest & Reflection series.
Every holiday period there is an exodus to points east, west and south of Alice Springs while others vacate the remote communities for a holiday experience in Alice Springs.
Clearly this does not work out for many as crime and vandalism ramps up in town. Police and courts are kept busy through the period and on into the new year.
Hundreds of people have been expressing their frustration through community forums on the internet while calling for the authorities – police, courts, governments (state, federal and local) – and parents to take responsibility.
p2402 FB comment 3The problems may be greater each year or it may just be the greater availability of forums in which people can vent their frustrations but it appears to me that over the six years I have observed this that the frustrations grow but the available solutions are not producing much change.
A few years ago I came across the story of Bogota in Colombia and its one time mayor Antanas Mokus.
Bogota had a high crime rate and citizens had little respect for traffic controls. Mocks was elected in 1995 and under his leadership, Bogotá saw improvements including murder rate falling 70% and traffic fatalities dropping by over 50%.
Famous initiatives included hiring 420 mimes to make fun of traffic violators, because he believed Colombians were more afraid of being ridiculed than fined.
My understanding is these mimes were recruited from 1,000 police who had been made redundant and accepted re-deployment in new roles.
In the Alice Springs context mimes or clowns could reward good behaviour (vouchers for Macca’s or Whoppers or Colonel Sanders) and frown on those getting up to mischief (plus call security).
p2402 FB comment 6Concepts such as justice reinvestment and restorative justice have been around for some time in Australia. They both offer some hope of reducing future criminal behaviour.
Justice reinvestment is effectively having faith that by investing now in programs that will positively direct likely offenders, savings will be made in policing, court and incarceration costs.
Just Reinvest NSW is one such programme. They know that too many children, particularly Aboriginal children are languishing behind bars, sometimes for protracted periods. They are promoting justice reinvestment as the way forward. It reduces crime, builds community capacity, and saves taxpayer’s money. Evidence shows when justice reinvestment is implemented, children and young people have more opportunities and get better outcomes.
This is effectively what Antonas Mokus was about – reducing police numbers and employing mimes.
Restorative Justice aims to achieve an understanding between offender and victim of the impact of criminal behaviour with a view to reduced reoffending and provision of a more satisfactory conclusion to the victim.
p2402 FB comment 7As a victim of house break myself, even with insurance coverage, you never get back all that you have lost in the experience.
Knowing that the offender was aware of the harm they had caused and being able in some way to contribute to their rehabilitation would give some satisfaction that you had done your best to improve the situation.
Alice Springs is a strong Rotary town with three clubs. Of the many Rotary projects, the Rotary Peace Scholarship may assist in bringing better relationships between social groups in Alice Springs.
Through academic training, practice, and global networking opportunities, the Rotary Peace Centres program develops leaders who become catalysts for peace and conflict prevention and resolution.
These fellowships cover tuition and fees, room and board, round-trip transportation, and all internship and field-study expenses. Identified leaders could investigate and help implement the concepts I have proposed through such scholarships.
There are some smart young people around the town and in communities who could become tomorrow’s leaders through this program.
To fellow online commentators, yes, it is a Government problem though the Chief Minister does not have to get his “arse down to Alice” to see what is happening, as one said in recent days.
He now has three MLAs in the town and I am sure they are sharing your experience and are as anxious to improve the situation as you are.
This is not just a government problem. It is everyone’s problem. The Government can provide resources to help address the local issues but it will require you all to get on board and show you are serious about finding and implementing solutions. The solutions are out there it just requires community commitment to make them work.


  1. Justice reinvestment seems a good funding strategy to reduce the underlying causes of crime, such as limited education and career opportunities.
    Canada has similar ideas, because the youth suicide rate in each Aboriginal community is inversely related to the number of culturally meaningful careers available there.
    Years ago, the chair of the Australian Productivity Commission observed that every measure of indigenous disadvantage results from social exclusion, so an Alice Springs culture that is like an extended family to all young people is promising (and is the type of tribal society that all people once lived in).
    Some cities address social exclusion by first engaging major business and civic leaders to make their organisational cultures more welcoming to excluded groups.
    Those leaders create positive examples that show what is possible, and thus make change more hopeful for everyone.

  2. Every summer we in Alice come under siege. We know this and have learned through experience to expect it, almost to accept it.
    Send in the clowns? Sure, why not? Nothing else seems to work.
    Will this initiative work? Hard to say. Maybe, but probably not. I foresee the ridiculed kids sulking off and returning at midnight with a vengeance.

  3. We are so concerned about political correctness so as not to offend, that the system is not prepared to name and shame the offenders!
    If identified their photos should published.
    This kind of public exposure would be a deterrent by causing shame, except to perhaps the most hardened offenders.

  4. @ Rural Resident: The point is that what may shame you does not shame everyone. Finding a new way of effective communication is required if progress is to be made.
    We can fill the gaols via longer sentences or more convictions but if the crime rate is not reducing, is it not time to look for a different approach?

  5. The problem, Richard, is that the alternate approaches offered have the appearance of being soft on the offender and the victim of crime gets little or no support.
    This difference is what feeds the view that the courts are too soft on people and that offenders get slapped on the wrist and told “you have been very naughty now don’t do that again” and they walk off laughing at the system.
    Endless imprisonment cycles are not the answer, but the answer is also not academic training and networking to make civil servants feel elitist and powerful. This soaks up the money that really should otherwise be spent on the frontline.
    This is why people feel the system works for the offender and not the victim.
    The Aboriginal corporations that seem to have fantastic offices and plenty of cars going around town also need to roll their sleeves up and get more involved in all this.
    I understand that many don’t want to be seen to be punishing their family but if a sense of fairness is wanted, it needs to be equally applied to everyone.


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