Martin Bristow, Queensland Police Union of Employees regional representative for Far Northern region says the approach to youth crime prevention needs to change. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
Martin Bristow, Queensland Police Union of Employees regional representative for Far Northern region says the approach to youth crime prevention needs to change. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

‘Softly, softly approach just has not worked’: Police rep

I'VE been a police officer for nearly 30 years now, and more than 20 of those years have been in the Far North around Cairns.

On arriving here and being based at Edmonton a common complaint was reporting cold drinks, alcohol or cigarettes stolen from the back veranda.

Move forward 20 years and the progress hasn't been positive: houses are now broken into while occupants are asleep, car keys taken, property ransacked and the family vehicle stolen and trashed.

Then there are the bashings, armed robberies, elderly victims sexually assaulted, the list goes on.

I have noticed on many forums that most members of the public are not pointing the finger at the police for the increase in crime and are blaming the government, the courts and agencies that deal with these juvenile offenders.

It is known that many of the offenders come from unenviable backgrounds - domestic violence, abuse - physical, mental and sexual. Being locked up with a bed and three meals a day is heaven for many.

I know police are frustrated, tired and angry that many of the serious recidivist juvenile offenders seem to be continually put back into the community where on occasions, within hours, they are back to committing offences.

I know I and my colleagues cringe when telling people to hide their car keys and valuables at night and when you're in your own house to lock all the windows, lock the front door and ensure the property is completely secure. Decent law-abiding people should not have to lock themselves away and treat their abode like it was some sort of a panic room.

Many police feel "burnt out" constantly dealing with the same young persons for the same criminal offences, locating, charging them, putting them in front of the courts to do the same thing in a few days time.

There is an old saying: The definition of insanity is to continually do the same thing the same way, over and over again and believe eventually there will be a different outcome.

Then the hardworking staff that deal with these children have to be a little on the far side to do what they do, I take my hat off to them.

Something needs to happen, and it needs to happen soon. There is talk of vigilante groups and reprisals against juveniles as there is no restitution available to victims.

People are complaining that sentencing is farcical; they have seen the protests on the roof of Cleveland Detention Centre demanding KFC for dinner and nightly reports of stolen cars and beaten elderly.

One officer told me that on sentencing a youth offender the magistrate said to him: "This is your last warning, come back before me again and you will end up in a detention centre." The problem is he had five different magistrates tell him the same thing.

What police want and need to see is a bipartisan approach from all politicians and political parties to try and address these youth before they come to the attention of police.

There needs to be action with all stakeholders, government agencies and non-government organisations to prevent youth crime, not wait until it becomes an epidemic and then expect police to resolve family/medical/social/parental/educational/etc issues that have been festering for 15 years or so with a child by taking them on "Trips to the Reef and Laser Tag" (if this has been done, it would have been at the officer's personal expense).

The softly, softly approach just has not worked.

There needs to be repercussions for criminal/bad behaviour, there needs to be respect instilled in the home unit (both for themselves and for others) and realistic action from all to prevent these kids from destroying themselves and others.