Just one week after the release of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, the Northern Territory Government has announced that it will send an anti-terror taskforce to patrol children in N.T. streets at night. The Territory Response Group (TRG) will be active in Alice Springs and Darwin throughout December, the period in which Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw says crime increases. Operation Shulton aims to keep children off the street and target alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Commissioner Kershaw would not rule out the use of military-grade assault weapons by the TRG when patrolling the streets. However, Chief Minister Michael Gunner said that the TRG would only be using night vision equipment and would not wear camo. This disparity indicates a lack of communication between senior members of the police force and thus, is a worrying indication of the communication police officers are receiving about how to treat children on the streets.
Mr. Kershaw said that half of the property break-ins were committed by youth offenders and thus, the TRG section of the Australian Government’s National Anti-Terror Taskforce was required to ease community fear. Despite the Royal Commission’s findings suggesting police over-arrest indigenous children and that the age of criminal responsibility should be increased to 14 years, the government has chosen to resolve the N.T. crime rate in a non-peaceful manner. Mr. Kershaw confirmed that despite the Royal Commission’s findings, no police procedural changes had been made and that his decision to deploy the TRG was not based wholly on evidence. He said that the decision was based on information provided by the community and the general opinion that crime increases in the Christmas period. Furthermore, Mr. Kershaw acknowledged that some children were on the street at night due to domestic violence, yet when asked if a 10-year-old would be approached by camouflaged officers carrying assault weapons he said: “they may be.” Worryingly Mr. Kershaw said, “At the moment, we’re bringing these children and youth before the courts, and nothing has come to me to say we’re breaking the law.” However, this goes directly against the findings of the Royal Commission which makes one doubt their efficacy if those in power choose not to listen to them.
Despite the aggressive response by the Australian Government, Mr. Kershaw said that the police force would be working with the Territory Families and NGO’s to provide a solution for children that do not have a safe place to call home, and to keep them on the right track. This is a positive step towards addressing the root cause of the problem rather than the symptoms which emerge as a crime. By providing children a safe home and working in conjunction with community organisations, the crime rate is likely to decrease due to the provision of a positive solution that addresses the real problem. Realistically, over time this strategy is likely to be more effective than the TRG patrols and assault weapons, as they do nothing to address the cause of the problem and only create a bigger divide between the community and the police. The implications of responding to crime with violence and assault weapons normalize the use of violence as a response to combating crime. This sets the wrong example for a community; people would be more responsive to a positive alternative, such as working with community organizations, which they could then employ themselves to help address the crime rate.
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