The Town Council has rejected Cr Eli Melky’s fifth attempt to introduce a youth curfew, the CLP’s favoured measure to deal with rampant juvenile delinquency now including assaults on people.
All the councillors except Cr Melky and Deputy Mayor Matt Paterson rolled over on the glib advice from Police Assistant Commissioner Narelle Beer that in the absence of a law establishing a curfew, the cops can’t do anything unless there are “reasonable grounds that a person has committed, is committing or is about to commit an offence,” quoting from her letter to the council.
The “no” voters included Mayor Damien Ryan, in clear conflict of his position as a candidate for the CLP which favours a curfew.
The Alice Springs News understands that Cr Melky (at left) is now working on Curfew .6, introducing a council bylaw which would give Assistant Commissioner Beer ample grounds to deploy her huge number of cops: The police Southern Command, when compared to the national picture, has three times the number of officers per head of population.
It would be a brave NT Government to disallow such a council by-law given the current mood of the Alice Sprigs population.
Asked by the council whether a curfew would be effective in Alice Springs, Commissioner Beer (at right) reiterated that her hands are tied (see above) and besides “a curfew is incompatible with the human rights and freedoms recognised or declared in the international instruments” accepted by Australia.
She cites seven of them, raising the question whether to “serve and protect” the people of the NT – the motto of the force – deserves priority over grappling with international protocols.
In an interview with the News, councillor and mayoral candidate in 2016 Jimmy Cocking discussed the intricacies of youth curfews.
NEWS: Given that assaults on people by youth gangs are a scary escalation from vandalism, home invasion, car thefts, ram raids and rock throwing, how come you voted against a curfew?
COCKING: We have a much more complex issue. The only people who can really engage in the issue are the police. That requires legislative changes. A curfew [which he described as “installing martial law”] cannot be implemented immediately. Correspondence from the police made it clear they do not support a curfew and would not be able to do anything with it even if we introduced it.
NEWS: Given the number of police officers, what’s your knowledge of police being active at night?
COCKING: There is a requirement for more police on the ground in the evening. The challenge is, how should they engage with young people. We’ve got social issues in this town: Poverty, disengagement, disempowerment going on, alcohol. We have to have a zero tolerance of violence, applying the full force of the law. In the short term we need to have more resources. Speaking as a councillor, but not on behalf of the Town Council, we immediately need to better resource the police and Territory Families.
NEWS: The size of the police force is phenomenal when compared with the rest of the nation. Is it a case of making the police more efficient rather then bigger in numbers?
COCKING (at left): That’s an issue for the police, but we need more of them in the early hours and [more officers] from Territory Families. We have called for a 24 hour drop-in centre, in the YORETs’ building [opposite the Kittle car dealership]. There is now the greatest coordination of services that’s ever been but the YORETs are on duty only till 3am. There is a lot of stuff happening between 3am and 8am. We need 24 hours a day engagement to get the kids off the streets and into safe places.
Mr Cocking says this needs a high degree of coordination and there is now a good flow of communication between the NGOs and the police.
NEWS: Are the NGOs pulling their weight?
COCKING: Yes, that’s my understanding, but ultimately we all need to be in the same space. Council needs to be there, and so need to be traditional owners, elders and families. That’s going to take time.
NEWS: What is the council doing right now in that field?
COCKING: We have a range of activities in the library for learning during the day. The library is almost a national leader in the way we are engaged with young people. We are having a library review at the moment. We have a youth action group, youth events and services. There is a gap in the after-school and night-time space. Again speaking as an individual councillor, council has a willingness to look at what more we can do. There needs to be a place in the CBD that is engaging young people and keeps them off the streets. The town’s locked up like a fortress from 6pm.
NEWS: There is a lot of misbehaviour by young people in the library. Police are calling there from time to time. There seems to be a bouncer. The kids are not there to quietly read a book.
COCKING: Roger Henshaw, the head of Public Libraries Australia, is in town doing a review and developing a strategic plan. Libraries are changing. They are not the quiet spaces they are used to be. They have a diversity of spaces. There are issues, we have security supporting staff. Staff have been trained in de-escalation strategies, which is fantastic. They are creating an inter-cultural space. [We are dealing with young people] who are hungry, and hot, and we are looking at ways to ensure young people’s behaviour is managed while they are in the library. When they don’t behave, they are kicked out and they might be banned for [varying periods].
NEWS: Are you surprised broader council youth initiatives haven’t happened in the past?
COCKING: There is a greater understanding of what is happening across Australia and the world and we need to come up with our own tailor-made strategy. It should have happened earlier but it has not happened here. Leadership comes into this. We can’t just ask the governments to fix this. The community must be part of it.
NEWS: There is a lot of talk traumatising children. It’s claimed a curfew would. Who is doing the traumatising?
COCKING: Ultimately all the issues in society happen because of things in the past, people who have been abused are becoming abusers. Do the kids have health issues? Impacts of trauma caused by foetal alcohol syndrome, violence, impacts of poverty. Perhaps they have been traumatised by the life they have to live. Kids are playing chasie with the cops and getting a buzz out of it, at night. It can become a game, testing police resources. The kids running amok must stop. But the curfew is not going to stop that.
NEWS: What will?
COCKING: More targeted engagement with police, more integration of social services. When I went home after the council meeting on Monday, literally everyone you saw around town were young Aboriginal people. Everyone’s got a different reasons for being out there. There is nothing in the CBD for them to go to.
NOTE: The News sent the following questions to Commissioner Beer on December 12 at at 9:50am. A spokesperson says her reply is being formulated.
Do you think children as young as eight years old are at risk if they roam the streets during the night without responsible adult supervision?
What are the police’s obligations with respect to juveniles at risk?
How are they carrying out any such obligations?
How many charges has the police laid against parents failing to provide the necessities of life for their children?
If there were none, is it your view that no such failures are occurring?
UPDATE December 13, 5am:
The council decided to write to the Chief Minister “to strongly call on him to identify what measures are in place to ensure the short and long term safety and healthy future of our community.
“To strongly urge the NT Government to increase and prioritise all relevant resources, including NT Police and Territory Families resources, to allow the short term safety of the Alice Sprigs community.
“Call on NT Government to establish a 24 hour drop-in centre.
“Alice Springs Town Council to offer the NT Government our support to achieve these outcomes.”