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HomeIssue 30Plan to make town safe lacks detail and urgency

Plan to make town safe lacks detail and urgency

By ERWIN CHLANDA

As police make repeated appeals for people to stay out of the central business district fearing children driving at high speeds in stolen cars may cause death or injury, Families Minister Kate Worden, when asked about a new policy to combat the problems, is refusing to disclose funding and other details.

The government’s sole front bencher in The Centre, Chansey Paech, says – via a minder – about the Social Order Response plan: “Our office does not have access to the information to answer these questions.”

Yet Mr Paech, as the Attorney General, had no difficulty praising this week the amendments to the Sentencing Act delivering “smarter justice for a safer Territory. The legislation reforms mandatory sentencing and mandatory non-parole periods for a limited range of offences”.

The Opposition described the move as a ploy to reduce the ballooning number of prisoners.

Many of the plan’s initiatives are set down for next March and even June, after another long, hot summer.

Police this week sent an additional 45 officers to Alice Springs but the Police Association says this “won’t necessarily stop the offending happening” while “violence and harm will continue to fall on the shoulders of our exhausted members”.

The plan, judged by the 39 initiatives published, raises some important issues but fails to provide detail and specific strategies, according to Ross Homel AM, Professor Emeritus, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University in Queensland.

It seems to be a “tick and flick” approach designed to get the government “off the hook, and not specific enough to hold them to account,” he says.
“We need to get people excited in the solution.
What’s the overall aim? What do they want to achieve?
“It’s a mixed bag, not a whole lot of detail.”
There is insufficient involvement of the people most affected – the kids and their families.
“It has to be inclusive, not just white males,” says Prof Homel, recently retired, whose decades long work included studying issues similar to those in Alice Springs in hotspots including Townsville, Cairns and Mt Isa.
“Control needs to be in the care of communities, to manage their own specific needs, with government support and not stigmatising Indigenous kids.”
Commenting on the plan’s Chapter 7 Prof Homel says the suggested environmental design of the town’s trouble spots would be positive, aiming at “improving the amenity in general, making it attractive at night as well as during the day.
“This would be sending a signal that this is a place you don’t wreck.”
In case of trouble the larger number of people would intervene directly or call the police.
This would create “areas of natural surveillance” without “hidden areas for people getting up to no good” as experience in the UK has showed.
One of the early initiatives in New York was removing rubbish and graffiti rapidly, “not allowing tags to sit up on the walls”.
Prof Homel says Communities That Care provide nation-wide examples of what could be done by the community in The Alice: “Sit down and talk to these kids. Improve their lives. You win elections not by law and order.”
He is doubtful about the plan’s call for business and community patrols: “This is not an issue for white police, white businesses. We should not repeat colonisation.”
The call for increased surveillance is “kneejerk stuff.
“CCTV does not prevent crime. It enables solving it.”
The challenges include unsafe homes, violence, alcoholism, sexual depredation: “We need strategies dealing with causes” and they vary from place to place.
“Where is the emphasis on the aunties” who in many dysfunctional families are the kids’ main carers.
There should be a carrot and stick approach: “There needs to be focus on deterrence, offering all help” but if that fails the kids must be made aware they are on a pathway to be dead or brain damaged.
Support for families should be given “every way you can, providing a better home for the kids”.
Taking away kids should be avoided “when possible”.
The plan’s proposal to reinvigorate the ‘No school, No service’ campaign will do little more than “motivate kids to smash a window, when they get a chance”.
Prof Homel says he “strongly” supports Restorative Justice – involving the victim, the offender and the community in repair and reconciliation – an alternative to prison introduced in New Zealand 30 years ago.

The Alice Springs News found the plan lacks detail to an extent where many of its 39 planned initiatives are meaningless.

It seems there has been no costing at all: there was certainly no reply from Minister Worden when we asked for this information.

“Improve safety through environmental design, including construction of safety zones, and improved lighting and wayfinding” alludes to a four-year-old Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) report. Why has it not been implemented or developed before?

No reply to that question either.

It could obviously range from a few more streetlights to a comprehensive reconstruction of sections of Alice Springs.

The plan states: “Support businesses to implement beautification projects, repairs and graffiti removal. Enforce statutory and compliance resources to manage unsightly and unsafe sites.”

At what cost? No information.

“Enhance community amenity through promoting the Neat Street App [a web-based system of notifying dumped rubbish] and enforcement of Council By-laws.”

Will that work? The Town Council was notified on June 30, 2021 by NeatStreet of rubbish west of the Transport Hall of Fame. The rubbish is still there. The council, a partner in the initiative, provided no comment.

“Support the development of WiFi hubs in public places, public housing and Town Camps … to push education and awareness messaging to the community.”

What is the estimated uptake of these facilities by people whose neglect of their children is a major contributor to juvenile delinquency?

What will be done to limit the use by young people of social media to coordinate criminal activities or boast about them?

The public is not told.

Over 12 months “establishment of [a] Working Group … developing and managing the Activate Alice brand and evaluation framework. Improved community sentiment.”

Will the “first 12 months” see more than meetings to set up yet another bureaucracy? If so, what? No answer.

“Integrate and regionalise CCTV monitoring and virtual patrols … at a single point of control.”

This – if at all – will not start until March 2023.

We asked: “Four more months till implementation, with the plethora of CCTVs, why has that not been done before? Will the single point of control be in Alice Springs? If not, why not? How many people and organisations will make up the communications network? How will they communicate?”

Ministers Worden and Paech are silent.

Commence a [service] that integrates and coordinates the work of the youth services sector NTCOSS [NTCouncil of Social Service] led youth voice project … service directory … finalisation of the Alice Springs Youth Action Plan 2023 [on the web it has a date frame of 2019-2021] … school holiday programs and after hours youth programs … deliver wrap around services outside school hours and over the summer/xmas holiday break.”

This, in essence, has been peddled to the public in the holiday season year after year while the situation is getting worse.

“Family Responsibility Agreements.”

What kind of responsibilities will families be asked to take on? What will happen if they breach the agreement or decline entering the agreement?

Minister Worden is mum.

“Implement Restorative Community Service [Prof Homel praised the concept] with a sense of urgency.”

It’s an answer to the frequent public demands, mostly falling on deaf ears so far, for offenders fixing what they have broken.

According to Britannica, court-ordered community service requires an offender to perform a specific number of hours of free work … as an alternative to incarceration.

It’s intended to start in March next year. Where is the evidence that it will work? That it will get support from the people who count, mostly parents?

“Work with communities and AFLNT [Australian Football League NT] to support community football on communities.”

Is the objective to reduce the number of fixtures requiring players and supporters travelling from communities to Alice Springs?

If so how will this be enforced?

Support the Town Council “to implement ongoing organised youth sports and recreation programs and activities”. 

How much is the ratepayer going to kick in? No answer from the council.

“Work with town camps to develop Community Alcohol Management Plans and support Central Land Council to develop applications for communities wanting to be dry areas.”

This is scheduled for June next year. 

Licensed premises managing alcohol consumption of patrons and monitoring problematic drinkers; enforcement of the Liquor Act 2019; revitalising the Alice Springs Liquor Accord; developing and disseminating a POSI – Point of Sale Intervention – strategy; “exploring” an increase of commercial passenger transport and ridesharing; permitting taxis in the Mall; rough sleepers; a Lhere Artepe traditional owners’ day and night patrol and “reinvigorating” the “No school, No service” campaign will also be considered – mostly some time in the future.

A chapter about curbing domestic violence is full of acronyms. We asked for an explanation but didn’t get one.

“Work with the Commonwealth to ensure Centrelink is attending regional communities, town camps and public housing to ensure they have the right entitlements.”

What has been Centrelink’s response? We’re not told

IMAGES Action for Alice.

UPDATE November 30, 2022

NT Parliament has passed legislation that raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years of age. Attorney General and Minister for Justice Chansey Paech says in a media release the new laws are part of the government’s plan “to break the cycle of youth crime through prevention, intervention, and diversion.
“Children aged 11-years-old or younger will not be criminally responsible for their behaviour, and will instead be referred to intervention and family support programs.”
Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro says in a media release that Labor is erasing a crime wave from memory, potentially wiping thousands of past crimes from the record books and green-lighting all crime, no matter how serious, for under 12s.

 

UPDATE December 1:

Police say between November 23 and 29 “high visibility” patrols have destroyed 229 litres of liquor, taken 168 persons into protective custody, made 24 arrests, issued 21 notices to appears, issued 29 traffic infringement notices, 17 summary infringement notices and 13 banning notices from the Liquor Act declared area.

This includes the arrest of a 14-year-old youth for numerous property offences in Mercorella Court, Sadadeen, between 24 and 27 November.

A driver deliberately reversed into a police vehicle before driving away at high speed but police arrested him a short time later, charging him with high range drink driving and other offences.

Superintendent James Gray-Spence says Operation Drina has seen good teamwork with other agencies and met with the Social Order Response Team.

“The support received to date from members of the public by stopping police as they patrol Alice Springs and thanking them for their service to the community is fantastic motivation and is greatly appreciated,” says Supt James Gray-Spence.

 

UPDATE December 2

Chamber of Commerce CEO Nicole Walsh says police confirmed the 40 officers recently deployed in Alice Springs would remain in place for a longer than mid-December, and she acknowledged that this strategy has made an immediate impact on crime and anti-social behaviour.

But she said: “We know that as a community we cannot arrest our way out of the situation.”

Ms Walsh called for initiatives including clarification of actions following the raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility; getting young people off the street and into a safe space; exploration of an Immediate Youth Justice Court; and getting back to community policing and the appointment for a dedicated position in a victim advocate role within NT Police.

 

UPDATE December 8

As an avalanche of offences, including life threatening ones, by children is continuing the NT Minister for Territory Families Kate Worden
 announced on December 5 that she will “increase safe spaces for children through the Safe Place Accommodation and Support program in Alice Springs.

“The program will provide expanded temporary accommodation for young people who are out at night unsupervised, considered to be at risk, and who have nowhere safe to go.”

We asked Minister Worden on the same day: “Will the children be able to come and go as they please from and to the Safe Place Accommodation? Or are they going to be detained there until a safe place elsewhere is found?”

We still don’t have an answer from her.

 

6 COMMENTS

  1. No point telling us again and again that Alice Springs (as well as many other towns, in Australia and overseas) has a “Youth Problem”, and “They” steal cars, smash windows, rob cash and grog, turn the Police and the public into puppets not knowing any longer how to manage the problem.
    If funds are released it should be for good purpose.
    Funds will be available if and when the magic pudding is finally designed to tackle the issue.
    Kids are not bad in themselves but we are demonising them more than they deserve.
    So far they are the winners: they are the centre of attraction and we respond with fear, we are the losers (high fences, locks and keys, keeping home, dogs in the yard, shutting shops and loosing business, increased policing, ultimately leaving town).
    Perhaps we should treat “Them” as normal human beings, like “us”: provide food and shelter, security and care, and foster a sense of hope rather than the current dire helplessness.
    Long term and costly.

  2. A “comprehensive reconstruction” of Alice Springs would entail an unscalable wall around the whole town with a security check upon entry with a day/night curfew in place inside the walls, a refutably better/cheaper solution for all inhabitants and visitors alike.

  3. While taking video of a pied butcherbird singing at Araluen Arts Centre some last month at 4am, I witnessed a nine to 12 year old kid chaperoning two siblings along Larapinta (to home one presumes).
    The siblings couldn’t have been older than six or seven years old. This was on one of the bad nights when three cars were hijacked. The scene was both touching and very depressing.
    The problems are inter generational – foetal alcohol syndrome and the rest of it. Clearly the parents are dysfunctional.
    I did hear someone on the ABC suggesting a boarding school set up out of town run by community elders – not white folks in any case – a completely Indigenous run operation.
    The kids need to sleep, be fed, and go to school in a safe environment. If the parents cannot provide that, then they lose their role and function as parents – in any society.

  4. I lived in AS in the early 70s and it was completely safe and a wonderful small town. What happened?
    I was thinking of coming over for a visit next year but I’m not so sure that’s a smart thing to do.

  5. I left the Alice almost five years ago after 25 years to retire in SA but return occasionally to visit my children and grandson (all adults).
    During the nine days we have been here, my daughter and nearby residents have had their houses stoned three times, and up to nine children invade a neighbour’s yard by jumping a fence and frightening her. She lives alone.
    Everyone complains about the problem of crime. The police seem incapable of dealing with it probably because of the volume and lack of judicial support.
    As an ex-police officer, I know the challenges of being everywhere at once. The NT Government seems either disinterested, incapable, or simply couldn’t give a rat’s.
    It’s good to see Alice Springs News and Erwin trying to get attention.
    Those of you still here perhaps need to elect a government that has a plan to set up a “centre” where neglected, criminal kids can be held and provided with health care, food, clothing, cleanliness, affection, and most importantly education.
    However, the emotionally titled “Stolen Generation” may make that solution untenable for political reasons.
    Who will form an incoming government that will have the courage to address these issues?

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