POLICE, YOUTH PLAYING BALL
“It’s not for everyone, this style of policing. You’ve got to pick the right people who have actually got to truly want to invest.”
That investment comes in different forms. For detectives overseeing serious offenders, it could be visiting youths in prison or knocking on doors in the middle of the night to ensure they are obeying court-ordered curfews.
Other police drop in to youth centres or basketball courts to mix with kids so they feel comfortable going to officers if there’s a problem, have role models and a positive interaction with police.
Or, it could be as simple as a cup of tea.
Proactive policing officers — who work alongside the taskforce detectives — told the Herald Sun of one case study where police were responding to 40 calls a week involving the same girl in Wyndham.
“It was causing a lot of grief … a massive workload,” Inspector James Dalton said.
Police now go to her house at the same time every Friday for a cup of tea — and there hasn’t been a single call-out to deal with her since.
“She feels valued, has attention, she doesn’t want to disappoint,” Insp Dalton said.
“It works — so it’s worth the half an hour.”
The approach has been welcomed by Melbourne’s African community leaders, who say they believe the phenomenon of groups of armed youths entering homes — often to steal car keys — could be turned around with a greater focus on addressing the rea- sons teens take the wrong path.
At politicians’ press conferences and in academic reports, discussions about solutions to Victoria’s youth crime rate are riddled with esoteric phrases about “empowerment” and “engagement”.
In plain language, that means giving bored kids something to do — and something to look forward to.
It’s particularly pertinent in western suburbs covered by Taskforce Wayward, an area named by a 2018 Brotherhood of St Laurence report as the worst in the state for youth unemployment.
One in five young people — 18.7 per cent — in Sunshine, St Albans, Footscray, Melton and surrounds is not in a job or training. Community groups are trying to find them jobs, but say they need employers willing to give teens a go.
About 40 youths — some with criminal histories — met this month with the Australian Industry Group to put their hands up to become apprentices.
“Some of their offences were around armed robberies, carjackings,” said Youth Activating Youth organiser Ahmed Hassan. “Now they’re looking for a second chance to do good, contribute to society and help their families.”
Further meetings are due to be held in Tarneit and Dandenong in coming weeks.
Detectives, too, are trying to encourage kids into jobs or back to school.
“You can be completely wrong about some of these kids,” Sen-Sgt Kahan said. “(They) might just need that assistance to get on that path.
“The ones that ... get an apprenticeship and get jobs, they rarely reoffend.”
While they’re a long way from solving the problem, Sen-Sgt Kahan said the taskforce approach was making inroads, with no armed home invasions by teens in the area for two months.
The aim, though, is not just to reduce crime — it’s to alter the direction of young lives.
“Some of the youth are always going to be bad, we can’t help that — it’s never going to change,” he said.
“What we can change is the kids that are thinking about being bad … (help them) turning to a different path — and I think that’s where we’re having a lot of success.”
Police build on positive relationships with local teenagers (above), while Naya, 14, takes on Constable Trent McLure on the court (above left) and Brooklyn, 15, has a shot at the basket (left). Pictures: JASON EDWARDS