An African Australian community taskforce has been established to work alongside police in addressing the escalation of youth crime and anti-social behaviour.
In a media conference this afternoon, Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton announced that the volunteer-run taskforce, which includes Richard Deng and Kot Monoah from the South Sudanese Community Association of Victoria, would directly support the police and community by:
– Providing information to police on emerging issues and hot spots, allowing police to act swiftly and nip problems in the bud through the deployment of resources;
– Establishing a more efficient channel for police to engage with African Australian leaders and provide advice on how they can best deploy their people and assist with efforts to prevent youth crimes and antisocial behaviour occurring; and
– Providing police with information on incidents of racial vilification and other hate crimes aimed at African Australians.
The group will meet for the first time this Friday.
Mr Ashton, who is back from leave, said he had sat down with senior members of the African Australian community earlier today to try and understand what had changed in recent weeks to cause the escalation of public disorder offences by groups of African youths, particularly across the Wyndham area.
“We have been dealing, for a few years now, with offences like home invasions, car jackings and we have got a policing model to respond and deal with those and we’re generally catching those offenders pretty quickly … what’s changed over recent weeks have been an increase in public disorder and misbehaviour by groups of young people,” he said.
“We want to have a good policing model in place to quickly get onto any escalation that occurs like that, so that we can quickly get there and quickly deal with it and hopefully prevent it from occurring.”
Mr Ashton said police had already worked alongside community groups at a number of major events – such as White Night and New Year’s Eve – where volunteers patrolled with police, spoke with young people and identified issues before they escalated.
He said the African Australian community were “more than willing” to support Victoria Police in addressing youth crime, and stressed that police would continue to take a zero-tolerance approach to offending.
“There’s been a lot of people in recent times impacted by this behaviour … the vast majority of law abiding members of the African Australian community are hurting as well. They very much want to be part of providing solutions to that, and I think this taskforce is a good approach.”
Deputy Commissioner Andrew Crisp said it was important to forge a stronger connection between police and the African Australian community to better understand emerging issues and to guide police in deploying resources.
Mr Crisp said he had been disturbed to learn that a number of African Australians had been subjected to death threats and other forms of racial vilification due to reporting of the issue.
Mr Monoah, a lawyer who has already co-ordinated a number of patrols with South Sudanese community leaders said only last night, he had seen an African coach verbally abused at Eagle Stadium. He said many African youths were also being told to “go back where they came from” and were treated with suspicion when in stores, as a result of the rising crime and public order offences.
“We obviously don’t like the nature of offending that young people tend to do without regard to the consequences … and it is our joint responsibility to make sure that those sorts of anti-social behaviours are disrupted,” he said.
Mr Deng said it was important to also highlight the good work being done by members of the African community and not divide the community with an us versus them mentality.
He also stressed that much focus was placed on the ethnicity of the youths, when the majority of the offenders had been born in Australia and had never been to Africa.
“Let’s put politics aside and work together because trying to use crime for political gain is not acceptable and as a community, we call on all politicians to work with us, work with Victoria Police as a way forward as a community and I believe working together, we will achieve a greater picture.”
The taskforce follows a major clean-up at Tarneit’s Ecoville Community Park overnight, where graffiti was painted over and rubbish was picked up.