Above: The drastic reduction in access to take-away alcohol has seen a partial shift to on-premise drinking, welcomed by police as it occurs in a “controlled environment”.
By KIERAN FINNANE
Alcohol-related crime is at a 10 year low: that means 630 fewer people assaulted in the last 12 months (a 28% drop) compared to the previous 12 months (August to August); and astonishing drops in public drinking offences and protective custodies at the watch house, 72% and 71% respectively. In numbers, protective custodies went from 2600 in the last 12-month reporting period down to 763.
These downturns correlate with a reported 40% reduction in alcohol-related admissions to the Alice Springs Hospital emergency department.
This is “already very good news for Alice Springs”, was the message of Commander Bradley Currie to town councillors last night – a message that needs to be heard and communicated more broadly, he urged.
Much of the progress is attributable to the attack on supply of alcohol to problem drinkers by the not uncontroversial stationing at bottle-shops of police auxiliaries, known now by the acronym PALI (Police Auxiliary Liquor Inspectors).
Cdr Currie put into perspective the recent high-profile complaints about PALIs (that their interventions are at times heavy handed and guided by racial profiling). This year they have had something in the order of 200,000 interactions with the public, with around 10 complaints.
Left: Cdr Bradley Currie with Superintendent Pauline Vickory at the Town Council last night.
They have now been directed to speak to “absolutely everyone”, including him, unless this results in a line-up of prospective customers which could impact the commercial operation of the business.
With access to take-away alcohol constrained, Cdr Currie said there there has been some shift to on-premise drinking. A “good thing” as the drinking is being done in a “controlled environment”.
As a result he said police are involved in a “lot of engagement with licencees” and have occasionally used their powers to suspend licences. (A suburban bottle shop in Alice Springs was the first to have its licence suspended under the “48B” legislation; suspensions followed for a supermarket in Katherine and a Tennant Creek hotel, then again for a saloon in Alice; all in 2018.)
Police are also involved in joint patrols with council rangers, moving drinkers on from the river, and with Tangentyere Council officers, where the focus is more on young people, diverting them away from offending.
He acknowledged the perception of an increase in crime and the worry that goes with it. And, of course, crime is still occurring, but even in the case of break-ins, there is a downward trend after a significant rise last summer. New crime statistics will be released next week, which will show a significant reduction in commercial break-ins and some decrease in break-ins to dwellings.
To a question from Cr Jimmy Cocking, about what is driving break-ins, Cdr Currie said about half are being driven by people looking for alcohol, with the other half mainly breaking-in for kicks, looking for car keys to then steal cars and hoon around in them.
In town, the examples of children breaking-in looking for food are limited; that is more prevalent in remote areas, he said, with a lot of them very young children, under 10 years.
Right: Cr Jacinta Price, Mayor Damien Ryan and Cr Jamie de Brenni.
Cdr Currie’s opening comment referred to Alice’s “social issues”, which are a challenge for police and everyone in the community. He acknowledged also the impact on residents of seeing fighting and other antisocial behaviour in public places, such as the incident recently described by Cr Jacinta Price, which is being investigated.
He is convinced a multi-agency approach, with both short-term and long-term strategies, is the way to go.
An Antisocial Behaviour Reduction Strategy is in final draft and will be introduced across the CBD, aiming to reduce not only alcohol-related crime but youth-related antisocial behaviour.
He spoke a lot about the ITCG or Interagency Tasking Coordination Group, inviting more councillors to attend these meetings in order to be better informed about the work the group is doing.
CEO Robert Jennings said he will join the manager of council’s ranger unit in attending.
Cr Catherine Satour asked about the possibility of Central Arrernte community members attending, recalling they had done in the past, together with her. Cdr Currie said that needed to be “reinvigorated”.
Cr Satour also spoke about a stronger police presence on town camps, about building those relationships.
“You’re reading my mind,” said Cdr Currie. Camp liaison officers had been trialled and he was hoping resourcing would allow it to be reintroduced. He said his colleague, Superintendent Pauline Vickory, is “very passionate” about it.
Cdr Currie spoke about the Alice Springs Youth and Family Operational Framework, which has taken over from Operation Marsh. (It can be hard to keep up with the dense network of strategies, operations, groups and frameworks when discussing social policy in Alice!)
The framework comprises three committees, the first, which police run and chair, being the Ure Group, its name taken from the Arrernte word for fire. Their work is all about managing high risk youth, with Cdr Currie speaking of a group of 20.
Left: Police interact with a youth late at night. Photo from our archive.
Two other committees, one chaired by Territory Families, another comprised of NGOs, work on putting “wrap-around services” in place for youth at risk and others who may eventually fall into that category.
To a question from Cr Price about the possibility of youth committing crimes in order to be detained, where they would feel safe, be fed, have things to do, he said he had no evidence of that, but rather evidence of the contrary. Some are choosing not to reoffend because they don’t want to go back to the detention centre.
He described the complexities around recidivism as “very, very difficult” but, through case management with Territory Families, Housing, and Education, they are trying to address all the issues Cr Price pointed to. He said there have been “some great success stories” out of the 20, where some youth who have been well known for committing offences soon after release, are not doing so with the right management in place.
He knows some adults are happy to go back to gaol, “a sad thing to see”.
Cr Price also asked him about whether those youth (being managed by the Ure Group) have been through the child protection system.
Some have, he said, just at the level of assessments, and others have been in the care of the CEO of Territory Families, but that is “not as prevalent as what is believed”.
Cr Price asked whether families are playing an active role in supporting their youth to come out of the justice system.
Cdr Currie said there is evidence of adults not supporting youth in a lot of circumstances and that is another area of work being done within the framework, trying to engage with families.
He said over the last two and half years, he has seen a lot of good work being done, by government, council and NGOs, with more services in place and more activities for youth, but there is still a problem with youth in the CBD. Part of this, however, is perception. Many of them are just wandering around, not doing anything wrong, just “doing what kids do”.
He acknowledged some unfortunate rock-throwing, that is being worked on.
So confident is he in the multi-agency approach that police took a “business as usual” approach during the last school holidays. This involves, among other things, a meeting at the police station of all agencies every night at 7pm, for a briefing on trouble spots.
Right: Cr Jimmy Cocking, Deputy Mayor Matt Paterson, Cr Eli Melky.
In these last holidays he said there was a slight increase in youth visiting town but not a lot of increase in crime.
To a question from Cr Marli Banks about the long Christmas holidays, he said there will be a special operation, but again it will mainly be business as usual.
To a question from Cr Glen Auricht about truancy, he said the names of school-age youth picked up on the streets at night are reported to the Department of Education, as part of the youth and family framework response. But he also said it would be great too see education officers doing more night patrols.
To a question from Cr Cocking about the YORETs and YENOs – more acronyms! – Supt Vickory said their work is “excellent”.
These are the Youth Outreach and Re-Engagement Teams (YORETs) and Youth Engagement Night Officers (YENOs) put in place as part of Territory Families’ Breaking the Cycle of Youth Crime strategy.
Supt Vickory said there is lot of connection happening throughout the night, with youth and between officers. She also referred to the work of the Tangentyere Youth Bus and their new youth program, Looking After the Kids, and Tangentyere’s participation in the nightly multiagency meetings at the police station.
All of this is “very, very successful from our point of view”, she said.
It was not quite the “sense of urgency” that Cr Eli Melky was looking to have embraced.
Later in the meeting, after the police had left, he alerted council to a motion being put by MLA Robyn Lambley in the Legislative Assembly today, calling for a youth curfew to be introduced in Alice Springs.
Cr Melky acknowledge the work of police and government but said the situation in Alice is still difficult and “some would say totally unacceptable”, with crime and antisocial behaviour seen seven days week, 24 hours a day.
Although one incident does not a trend make, he went on to describe an incident he had witnessed that afternoon when two tourists standing outside Yeperenye Shopping Centre had their trolley, whose wheels had locked, raided by a group of 15 youths.
He called on council to write to every MLA in the Territory parliament, urging them to be “solution driven” in their discussion of behaviour on the streets of Alice Springs.
He reminded them that the Nighttime Youth Strategy (a curfew by another name, with some additional measures), supported by council in 2006, is still on the books as council’s policy in the area.
He was happy to have this 13-year-old formulation communicated to today’s MLAs. Deputy Mayor Matt Paterson initially said he would support this, but later qualified that to some of its measures. Other councillors were opposed.
Cr Jamie de Brenni pointed out the difficulty of having a curfew without a way of implementing it: “What do we do with the kids, where would we take them?”
Cr Glen Auricht said council must find a solution with Aboriginal people in town, not bring another thing to them.
Cr Melky acknowledged the unlikelihood of the NT Government supporting a curfew, he just wanted to have it made clear to them that there is a “crisis we have to deal with”, that “it’s just dangerous to live in Alice Springs”.
Mr Jennings suggested there were a number of things council could reference, putting a more updated position to MLAs, including the work of the ITCG and the Alice Springs Youth Action Plan, being launched on 23 October.
In the end council unanimously supported a motion to write to MLAs “encouraging a community-driven solution to deal with youth matters in Alice Springs”.
To which, given all that had been heard from Cdr Currie and Supt Vickory earlier, MLAs might well reply, “we’re onto it”.