IT’S BEEN a year, and Frankston’s Maori Elders say their street patrols are lessening crimes by young Pacific islanders.
Elders’ operations manager Eva Halford said efforts by the police and Elders over the past 12 months to break down cultural barriers between “disengaged” youth – often coming to Frankston by train – had largely been effective.
“When we started, the crime rates had risen 94 per cent but, since the patrols, they are down 31 per cent,” she said.
“We keep in constant touch with Victoria Police and, with their help, have been able to scale down our weekend patrols over winter.”
However, police say problems continue, with islanders being “over represented” in crime.
A constant theme cited for youth and gang problems is the islanders’ loss of identity and cultural confusion in a country where their old ways and customs are no longer valid.
Many young people are out of work or under-employed. The problems are exacerbated by hard-working parents with large families who are not around enough to provide guidance or act as suitable role models.
Ms Halford said many of those targeted by the six volunteer Elders at “hotspots” such as Frankston station, CBD, shopping malls and the beach, were intoxicated or on drugs.
“At first they would look at us as if to say, ‘Who do you think you are?’ she said. “We’d start to talk and get into conversations and gradually encourage them not to hang around the CBD or they would get locked up.
“At first we had a lot of engagement, especially with kids from Rosebud, Mornington and Hastings. A lot of them come from Dandenong.
“The Frankston patrols have been really good. But now many of those we used to see are no longer turning up. They may be incarcerated, working, or have moved on,” she said.
Ms Halford said the Elders visited Frankston Children’s Court fortnightly to assist young offenders, and had extended their patrols to cover Hastings and Rosebud where Maoris and islanders were establishing themselves.
Maori Elders’ secretary Helen smith, whose husband James launched the initiative at Werribee based on an established New Zealand model, said the volunteers worked in groups of three and always with a male present.
“As far as we can tell we are making a difference,” she said. “The same kids are not hanging around the old areas anymore and we are gradually moving our focus to Hastings and Rosebud.
“We try to get out as much as we can on our own, without police involvement, after letting them know where we will be, because we previously found the kids were running away from us if they saw the police with us.”
Leading Senior Constable Andrea Kardos, of the Frankston police proactive unit, said police patrols with the Elders had been effective. “We’ve had a good response from the kids and the Elders help police interact with them more easily.”
She said an influx of other races: Samoans, Cook Islanders, Polynesians and Sudanese, would “at some stage make Frankston more like Dandenong”.
Frankston Embona Detective Sergeant Marty O’Brien said increased crime rates by islanders aged 13-24 were “a huge problem” for police.
“Ninety per cent of our work relates to islanders. They are over-represented,” he said.
“We’ve tried everything [to work constructively with the youths] but nothing works; some come from good families but they don’t care. Many have no means of support other than their gang.”
He said crime groups such as the KKK, Y2K and Apex had a “blatant disregard for the law”.
“We have 15 and 17-year-olds committing armed robberies and burglaries. They have no family support and their ages mean they walk straight from court.”
He said one youth was bailed by Frankston Magistrates’ Court after committing 14 armed robberies. “Why a court would even entertain the idea of bail I don’t know,” he said.
“We need to get harder because it’s getting worse. Upon conviction they should be sent straight out of the country. It’s a privilege to reside here.”