Far from being disengaged gangs prone to crime, young people in Melbourne's west have told Victoria University researchers they want to work with the police to ensure their neighbourhoods are safer.
In a study released today, Don't Go There: Young People's Perspectives on Community Safety and Policing, VU researchers Michele Grossman and Jenny Sharples say there are strong indications that a collaborative approach by police working alongside young people will reduce violence and crime.
"We surveyed 500 people in the Brimbank area aged 15-19 and conducted focus groups with a further 50, and it's fair to say these young people are very willing to develop relationships with the police based on openness and mutual understanding," Associate Professor Grossman said.
"One of the common assumptions these young people reject is that youth congregate in ethnically based 'gangs' with criminal intent. Young people overwhelmingly tell us they socialise in large groups for safety and for cultural and social reasons.
"Most of the groups are culturally diverse, and are not based on a single ethnic group. Although there are exceptions, they are generally homogenous and law-abiding."
Some of the key finding of the study, jointly funded by Victoria Police and the University, are:
- 50 per cent of survey respondents said they felt extremely safe or safe in their neighbourhood
- 81 per cent of those surveyed said they had never been a victim of violence in a public place
- More than half of those surveyed (58 per cent) reported they felt safer when they see police on the streets
- Suggestions for improving safety included police and community members working collaboratively, greater reporting of crime by young people, and more environmental security measures such as cameras and guards, especially at local transport hubs
- Both Sudanese and Pacific Islander young people expressed a lack of trust and confidence in police when their safety is threatened
- Young Pacific Islanders felt a chronic sense of threat and lack of safety, particularly young men
- Many of those surveyed reported they knew other young people who regularly carried weapons including various kinds of poles, bats, knives and guns
- A majority of those surveyed said they wanted improved relationships with the police to ensure greater safety for themselves and their communities
The report authors have developed a consultative model, 'Listen and Learn' for police-youth community partnerships that can be rolled out across the state. This strategy draws on the success of similar programs in Canada, the US and the UK.
"We believe there is a great opportunity for police and other community stakeholders to establish mutually supportive relationships with young people based on the evidence in this report," Associate Professor Sharples said.
For interview: Michele Grossman - 0434 075 386; Jenny Sharples - 0402 680 175
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