COMMENT by BLAIR McFARLAND
The writer (pictured) is a youth worker with decades of experience, employed by Tangentyere Council. The views expressed are his own.)
It is true that there are naughty kids in Alice Springs. This is nothing new, but there are indications from the NT Police that youth offences are down compared to the same time last year.
The NTG releases crime stats monthly. It takes about a month for them to percolate through but they are there available to the public. [ED – The December statistics will be become available in mid-February, according to a spokesman for the Chief Minister.]
NT Police Southern Commander Michael White states on that site: “Overall, Alice Springs total offences against property have been trending down over the last few months, reduced by 16% in July to October 2017 compared to the same period in 2016.
“Property crime is now 1% lower than the year ending October 2016. Over 2017 to end October, thefts of and from motor vehicles, stealing and property damage have all decreased when compared to January-October 2016.
“Residential break-ins continue to track down following a peak that occurred at the beginning of the year. Commercial break-ins have increased slightly compared to this time last year; however there has been a continued downward trend over recent months apart from a spike during the school holidays in July,” says Commander White.
Although this is demonstrably true, it is not much comfort if you were the one assaulted or whose house was broken into over summer, but it does indicate things are getting better. But why? What is working?
I think this reduction in offending is due in part to improved policing, with the youth engagement police doing a great job.
I often see them talking and laughing with kids on the street, but am also aware they are being clear about the effects of crime, and the consequences of offending.
So as well as creating relationships, where the kids will be comfortable about telling police what is happening and who is involved, they are also giving some street level education about the criminal justice system. People I have been talking to have indicated there is an unprecedented coordination of public resources going on in Alice Springs at the moment, with good effect.
The substantial reduction in crime is also due to the investment the NTG has made in youth programs over summer.
There are free activities happening all through the week that are diverting kids from offending.
The bulk of these preventative programs are being carried by the NT Library, Gap Community Centre and Brown Street Tangentyere Youth Services.
Hundreds of kids each week spend time in these centres, and the majority of the time there are no issues.
The CEO of the Gap stated to me: “We have not had any issues caused by young people that have closed our doors. Only building repair and maintenance issues have closed our doors.
“Young people have not destroyed our buildings or property, they have not attacked staff and in the most part are respectful of The Gap and our staff.”
There will always be naughty kids, but our challenge is to support the vast majority who are good kids through keeping doors open to them and activities that they value.
As my son said when he worked at the Gap Computer Room: “Even the naughtiest kids are good in the computer room.”
Kids, and people, act better when there is something to lose by acting badly. Taking away resources from all kids to punish that small number of naughty kids is counterproductive: it helps the naughty kids recruit as it engenders a feeling that the town is unfair on kids, and that being good does not result in opportunities.
Some people suggest that flogging kids is the answer.
The option of hitting kids is one that has been discredited for more than a generation. Does it help to model violence as a way of resolving problems?
Those kids eventually grow up, and if that is how they were treated, how will they treat others? Maybe it was done in the previous generations, and maybe that’s why there is as much violence in our community now. It’s a dead end, and not a credible solution to trouble on the streets.
This strategy of providing carrots rather than sticks is the value of open door style youth programs, which welcome kids and their families, and which return more than $3.50 in value for every dollar invested by the community – see this independent report aptly titled “Investing in the future”.
I hope the evaluation of the summer holiday programs that are currently taking place will see the NTG invest in the future of the Alice Springs community, not through more kids in detention, but through supporting good kids who are doing it tough for a number of reasons.
COMMENT by BLAIR McFARLAND