Queensland pours millions into cops on the beat for youths

By Melissa Coade

June 3, 2021

Taylors Hotel building in Mackay
Taylors Hotel building in Mackay. (Image: Adobe/Inge)

The state has delivered $5.2 million to fund a youth crime ‘co-responder team’,  comprising police and youth justice workers, in efforts to divert children from the justice system.

According to the state government, about 170 Mackay youths have already engaged with the squad as part of efforts to ‘reduce youth crime and improve community safety’. 

Together with other government initiatives, the government believes that the program is helping to drive down the number of children aged 10-17 who get entangled with the criminal law. 

Queensland police minister Mark Ryan said the team often dealt with youth issues such as homelessness, domestic violence and drug abuse. The co-responders would offer the children referrals to support services, and also check in on ‘young offenders to ensure they were complying with their bail conditions’, he said. 

“The co-responder teams monitor and approach vulnerable young people in public places who may need help on a whole range of issues. 

“This is about using all of the resources at the government’s disposal to make a real difference to community safety and also to make a difference in the lives of troubled youths,” Ryan said.

Having an alternative to the ‘traditional enforcement model’ was changing the way police approached the issue of youth crime, Acting Superintendent Tom Armitt said. He added this was helping to divert young people from potentially criminal behaviour via referral pathways and other supports.

“Our teams are engaging with young people in a positive way who may have otherwise had a negative view of the roles we play in society,” Armitt said. 

The co-responder team has been operating in five locations in Queensland since 2020 and was expanded to patrol the streets of Mackay in March.

New crime statistics show that in the 12 months leading up to 30 December 2020, children in the 10-17 age bracket who were charged with at least one offence in Mackay dropped by almost 5% compared to the previous year.

Youth justice and multicultural affairs minister Leanne Linard said the co-responder team in Mackay would ramp up their efforts from Wednesday to Saturday — canvassing parts of the CBD and wider city areas during the ‘peak period’.

“The teams are working hard to stop crime before it occurs, while reducing anti-social behaviour in public places and diverting young people to support services,” Linard said. 

“Co-responder teams have had some great successes in Cairns, Townsville, Moreton, Rockhampton and Logan, and I’m pleased to see the program is now kicking goals in Mackay too,” she added.

Since the co-responder teams have been implemented in other regions, teams have been in contact with young people around 11,200 times as at 15 May 2021.

The Queensland government said the initiative formed a key part of efforts to reduce youth crime, which were ‘bolstered with the introduction of tough new measures for young repeat offenders’.

The state government’s wider ‘tough on youth crime’ reforms have been met with strong opposition from youth justice experts, who have described the measures as akin to a ‘war on kids’ and warned that hard line initiatives like the use of GPS tracking devices and a presumption against bail for repeat youth offenders would further condemn vulnerable children. 

Mackay member Julieanne Gilbert said the benefits of the co-responder initiative spoke for itself.

“Many of our programs in Mackay, including restorative justice conferencing, behaviour intervention programs and bail support services, are getting young offenders back on track,” she said.

“But we also know that in Mackay 10% of young offenders commit 44% of youth crime, which is why a new co-responder team was formed to boost our efforts.”

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