PO­LICE, YOUTH PLAY­ING BALL

Herald Sun - - NEWS - andrea.hamblin@news.com.au

“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

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