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Home Issue 18 Curfew: What else could fix youth crime?

Curfew: What else could fix youth crime?

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

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.”
 
 
 

22 COMMENTS

  1. I remember the summer of 2011 when things were bad in town, the police sent an extra 30 or so police from Darwin and there was a noticeable increase on the streets of the CBD of police numbers. Foot patrols, two or three police at a time.
    This was reassuring at the time to the public and shop traders.
    If a curfew leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the Government, then as a first step to improve the CBD, especially at night, have a “flood” of police at night on the streets.
    Then back it up with penalties not just a warning note and be given back to the responsible adult who let them roam the streets in the first place.
    Otherwise the police may as well change their motto from “to serve and protect” to “to catch and release”.

  2. Seriously? Curfew won’t work as its needs policing. Already the police are stretched to the limit. As usual all the councillors and politicians will wait till someone is seriously injured or dies before something is done.
    Martial law is needed now as well as bringing in the army before Alice is finished forever. People in government and councillors are not doing their jobs!

  3. “A curfew is incompatible with the human rights and freedoms recognised or declared in the international instruments” accepted by Australia.
    What about: “Everyone should enjoy all the rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Article 3: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
    “We all have the right to live in freedom and safety. No one should be arbitrarily killed, or deprived of their liberty without good reason.”
    If I have to live behind high a metal fence I have lost my liberty.

  4. “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.”
    We ARE all in the same space, it’s called Alice Springs!
    How much time do you need? I’ve been here 25 years and it only got worse! Never heard so much mumbo jumbo political bullshit in all my life.
    Then to add insult: “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.”
    What on earth does he mean by this asinine statement? There is so much manpower and money thrown at this already that it makes one’s eyes water!
    Interestingly, from Dr Google: In Australia in 2015, the cost of putting one person behind bars for a year was nearly $110,000.
    The OECD average was $69,000 per person, so would it be possible to pay these people say $80,000 to behave? No it wouldn’t because we are already paying this through our taxes anyway, we just don’t know where it’s all going.
    We actually need action, not political spin and certainly not insincere words.

  5. Upon review of Part 13.1, By-Laws of the Local Government Act, it appears entirely within the scope of the ASTC to implement a curfew.
    A By-law binds the Territory and all its instrumentalities. So just as the police are required to enforce local government traffic regulations the police would equally be required to enforce a youth curfew.
    Like any law, they are not necessarily a silver bullet.
    Just as murder is against the law, people still commit murder. But the law serves as the legal channel to identify, prevent and prosecute breaches of the law.
    In many ways the law also acts a deterrent. The argument of a law not being enforceable or completely able to prevent a crime is irrelevant. Just as littering is incredibly prevalent in this town, we none the less have a law against it.
    The police citing international conventions is immaterial and frankly, embarrassing.
    Police have a duty to enforce the laws of the land.
    International conventions are not the jurisdiction of the NT police, conventions, if agreed to by we the people, are instead enforced and localised through legislation in NT and Australian laws if they have been passed.
    The police and non-curfew supporting members of Council and the NT Government should perhaps read the in force, NT Care and Protection of Children Act. A few items of note:
    • A child is in need of care and protection if the child is not under the control of any person and is engaged in conduct that causes or is likely to cause harm to the child or other persons.
    • The CEO (NT Government) may take the child into provisional protection if the CEO reasonably believes the child is in need of protection and the provisional protection is urgently needed to safeguard the wellbeing of the child.
    • An Authorised Officer may move the child to a safe place if the child is at risk and not under the supervision of a parent, family member or responsible adult.
    Any young person out on the street in the middle of the night on a school night is neglected and at risk.
    The parents (for what ever reason) are failing in their duties, it is therefore the legislated responsibility of the NT Government to protect these children.
    A curfew would crystallise this responsibility and simplify the understanding for the children, the community and the authorised people.
    Regardless of this though, the NT Government is currently failing in protecting the unsupervised, at risk children on the street.
    The council should pass a By-Law as soon as possible to highlight the Government’s responsibilities and current failures and clarify the expectation of the community in regards to children’s welfare.

  6. UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories to save and protect children.
    World Vision is dedicated to helping vulnerable children thrive.
    They work with communities to help them achieve their development goals and forge pathways out of poverty. They believe in building lasting change.
    May be we should ask UNICEF and World Vision, to put Alice Springs on their list.
    Shame on us, Australia.

  7. @ Surprised: If the parents of these children and the youth themselves did not receive largesse from the taxpayer they might be too busy working so they can eat and pay bills.
    They may be too tired then to get up to mischief.
    As for the socialist UN why would you want to transfer the parents’ responsibilities to them.
    People should get their house in order and stop blaming others. They are your responsibility.

  8. Self determination, land rights, treaty taxpayer funding, no improvements.
    It is high time the Aboriginal communities policed their own children and handed out their own punishments to the parents as well as the children.
    No complaints re discrimination as all supervision of community behaviours would be carried out by their peers.
    If there are no enforceable boundaries on behaviour, white man law or traditional, then mayhem ensues. Own the problem and fix it.

  9. As an Gongoozler I have auscultated with the locals while on business from the United States.
    By the way this is my last trip to the NT.
    This issue of social disorder is very similar to what I have experienced in third world countries over the years: A proportion of the Indigenous population that cannot assimilate into the wider community and hold the general populace to ransom.
    It is a simple and sad fact now known around Australia and indeed internationally.
    The Alice Springs community needs leadership and sadly this area is void or ignorant.
    This has more than just social effete; it has serious economic consequences.
    Who would visit or move to Alice Springs or indeed invest while Indigenous youths own the streets, in particular the CBD?
    Regrettably, like so many visitors to Alice Springs we go back to where we come and deliver a sorry story.
    What works that I have seen is a curfew. Best to enforce a curfew as proposed and take back the streets of Alice Springs for all to enjoy.
    Season’s Greetings.

  10. Deplorable. So you think that Aboriginal communities should police their own children and hand out their own punishments to the parents as well as the children.
    How quickly we forget.
    We broke traditional punishment.
    Under Peter Toyne there was one law, mainstream Australian Law and everything else was illegal.
    Now we are not so sure but it is too late.
    It is easy to tear down these ancient things but once gone there is no getting them back.

  11. If we the law abiding citizens of the Northern Territory of Australia allow unchecked criminal behaviour to continue without consequence and without forcefully calling our useless so called leaders to account then we are doomed. God help us all.

  12. @ Ralph Ford: Well I suppose all the do gooders and activists can wear the blame.
    But seriously all these dysfunctional families have to be brought to account either by communities or as you say Australian law.
    After all we are all just Australians from different backgrounds.
    None is more important than the other.We are here for the moment.
    Respect is definitely a two way street and it starts at home.
    Respect for your family your neighbours your country’s laws.
    As I said, own the problem and fix it. We are not talking of capital punishment perhaps a bit of corporal punishment and psychology.

  13. Government via social services has a lot to answer for.
    It started years ago when parents of all creeds were told what to do or not do with their children.
    I will never forget the day I had a social worker told me my daughter complained about me because I was too strict!
    I was told that my hours of being back home were not good enough, I should give my kids more freedom!
    My children were still in high school or technical college.
    My rules: You go out only Friday night or Saturday night, never Sunday or week-days, and be back home by 10 pm.
    I told the social worker where to go and told her that my rules remain.
    I rather send my children back to France where they will be controlled by the family until they 21st birthday (now it is 18) and where they still can be spanked.

  14. The practice of smacking children, referred to in France as la fessée, is condemned by the UN but still enjoys widespread support in the country.
    According to France’s Childhood Foundation, 85% of French parents admit to smacking their children.
    The ban, to be put to a final vote in the Senate on Tuesday, would make France the 55th state to prohibit corporal punishment of children.
    It will be written into the Civil Code and read out to couples when they exchange their marital vows.
    The measure, which was adopted by MPs in November, is expected to easily pass the Senate despite some lawmakers on the right railing against what they see as “interference” in family life.
    Violence towards children is already banned under France’s penal code, but a 19th-century addendum to the Civil Code’s definition of parental authority made allowances for parents when “disciplining” their children.

  15. The phrase “spare the rod, spoil the child” is a modern-day proverb that means if a parent refuses to discipline an unruly child, that child will grow accustomed to getting his own way. He will become, in the common vernacular, a spoiled brat.
    The saying comes from Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”
    Clearly these people hate their children! How so?
    Well, I am assuming they are not idiots (the parents) so they must know that by continuing to allow these [kids] to run amok and attack innocent people, there is only grief coming for them, either by legal means or other. Interestingly it’s called human nature.
    The other saying, “Don’t poke the bear” seems befitting.
    So when you get a reaction, don’t start bitching poor bugger me, no one loves me or respects me, it’s a racist thing, just look in the mirror and have the guts to say: “I brought this upon myself, I deserve what I got.”

  16. We attended a function recently. About half the number that should have been there were missing.
    On contacting and approaching a few as to why they did not attend the answer from all were “we don’t go out at night anymore, will not park our car in the street at night”.
    A couple of very long timers even said they were looking at moving out.
    About time the powers that be found some intestinal fortitude and cleaned the place up regardless of what UN, social workers, dreamers and do-gooders have to say!

  17. If youth crime is rampant and crippling the Alice Springs economy and the council refuses to fix it – we need a new council that will fix it.
    Listen to the cries of your people who are suffering because you refuse to do anything about it.

  18. Town council needs to be replaced. They will continue to make this problem more complicated.
    It is not the problem of the residents of Alice springs that Aboriginal kids are the victims of trauma, they just want the crime to stop.

  19. We need more youth workers to support the families and children and also more helpers in the classroom to keep children on task and help them to achieve their potential.
    Reducing the number of classroom tutors in government schools is not helpful. Very shortsighted by funding bodies.

  20. I seem to remember Adam Giles’ government defunding the Alice Springs Youth Service in a very short-sighted move.
    It was based in the Mall near NAB, and coordinated a range of evening and night services for a large number of young people in the CBD.
    It was a very effective and popular service.

  21. @ Steve Carpenter: I agree 100% with you Steve. And what is the council doing with the ever increasing council rates which seem to make the place even more unlikeable, according to a contact who is still living in Alice Springs.

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