A juvenile offender at Broome airport, one of a record number flown to Perth for imprisonment. (ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)
There are concerns about the potential for vigilante violence as residents grow increasingly frustrated by the rising rate of break-ins, car thefts and vandalism in towns across the Kimberley.
Northern residents and businesses are increasingly sharing CCTV of break-ins. (Supplied: WA Police)
There is consensus among police, Aboriginal community leaders and politicians that the current system of punishing the juveniles involved is not working, with a record number of children and teenagers being arrested and flown to Perth for imprisonment, but the re-offending rates continue to rise.
“The number of crimes committed is unacceptably high historically — we have gone back over the statistics and there’s been a steady increase the last six years, with 30 to 40 per cent extra in burglary, stealing motor vehicles,” Kimberley Police Superintendent Allan Adams said.
“At the minute we’ve got more kids being apprehended and arrested, more kids being subject to detention by the courts than we’ve ever had before in the Kimberley, yet crime rates have not reduced.
“We strongly believe that the deterrent factor of police apprehending kids, and the court subjecting them to periods of detention, is not acting as a deterrent, and it’s not providing the relief that the community is looking for which means we have to do something different.”
Some Kimberley residents have started barricading their properties following repeated break-ins. (ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)
Anger is building on two fronts as residents are tired of having their homes ransacked, and those who are concerned for the welfare of the record-high number of children — some as young as 11 — being flown handcuffed to the Banksia Hill Detention Centre in Perth.
Senator Patrick Dodson, who lives in Broome, said it was evident that a punitive approach was not working.
“I’ve seen it myself, young kids at the airport, with a six-foot-ten police officer or custodial officer and a young child handcuffed to them,” he said.
“I’m sure there is no joy for those custodial officers and there’s certainly no joy for that child. We do need an [alternative juvenile justice] facility in the Kimberley.”
Threats of violence
Numerous people who spoke to the ABC said it was only a matter of time before a child was injured or killed as residents booby-trap their properties and try to chase away the largely male, Aboriginal teenagers involved.
One Broome resident — who doesn’t want to be identified due to fear or reprisals or prosecution — has electrified parts of his backyard in a bid to stop children stealing drinks and equipment.
In January, the Derby Chamber of Commerce wrote to the Chief Magistrate of WA:
We’d like to bring to your attention the unrest… about the massive number of break-ins and criminal behaviour that is being conducted by young offenders.
The acts are being perpetrated by kids aged six-17, and they’re being released without conviction, which allow them to keep reoffending knowing there’s no penalty for their action.
“This has caused the community to take action themselves to protect their property and we can foresee that vigilante groups [are] being formed on social media, who will patrol the streets to apprehend offenders… there’s concern that it will eventuate in a Kalgoorlie situation.
The reference is to the death of Kalgoorlie teenager Elijah Doughty, who was killed while being chased by a driver angry at a theft from his property. The death prompted riots outside the local courthouse.
Derby Chamber of Commerce President Paul Bickerton with CCTV footage of a teenager stealing alcohol from his property. (ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)
Chamber President Paul Bickerton, who said his home and business had been broken into 20 times in three months, said residents were stressed and angry.
“I’ve heard people talking about setting booby traps to capture these kids. We don’t want to see them harmed, but we just want the correct procedures to occur to stop these crimes.”
“They are forming vigilante groups out there, with people behind the scenes on Facebook sending messages calling out for help.
“It’s totally wrong if you ask me, but people feel there’s nothing much left they can do.”
Fitzroy women Denise Andrews and Irene Darungka Jimbidie say many local families need support with raising their children. (ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)
Community leaders stepping up
Aboriginal community leaders are organising community meetings in Fitzroy Crossing and Kununurra to try to mobilise local families to find solutions.
There’s frustration and sadness that it is often local Aboriginal businesses, and services set up to help local families, that are being targeted.
Denise Andrews, a Fitzroy Crossing shire councillor and mother of three, said it was an upsetting situation.
“We have got kids in town walking around late at night, vandalising properties, breaking in, even throwing rocks at trucks as they drive across the Fitzroy River bridge. It’s like it’s become a new hobby for them,” she said.
“So it’s time we came together and spoke about this now, the community needs to drive this and we need to make sure the [government] services are listening to what the community has to say about how to prevent this.”
Ms Andrews said there needed to be a more wholistic approach to addressing the issues within a family before children were roaming the streets getting involved in crime.
“You can’t just punish these kids, you’ve got to work with the parents as well,” she says.
“When the kids are taken away to detention, they come back to exactly the same environment because the parents aren’t getting that help they need as well. So when the kid comes back out, the cycle just starts again, and the kid will keep offending until he ends up in adult prison.”
Local woman Irene Jimbidie said the majority of kids getting arrested were not ‘bad kids’, but vulnerable due to their home environment.
Every night dozens of children roam the streets of towns like Derby and Broome unsupervised. (ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)
“Some of the kids, they don’t like hanging around at home, as there’s lots of alcohol, drugs around, and even at school, lots of bullying, so the kids just head out on the street and feel safe in their own little group.
“Then they go do all these silly things because they think no one cares.”
It’s a similar situation in Derby, where each night dozens of children roam the streets.
On a late-night drive with police, hyperactive children scatter the streets, chattering and throwing things on the roofs of abandoned houses.
Detective Senior Sergeant Neil Vanderplank said most were cheeky but harmless, and mainly just longing for adult attention.
“At night-time there are a group of about 10 or 20 kids that are out late, it fluctuates a bit but we know most of them,”
“We see a lot of the adults heavily influenced by alcohol, which obviously perpetuates the cycle of domestic violence…. the kids then don’t want to go home because there’s drunk people there, and there’s noise and people fighting, so they take off into the streets, and that’s where the antisocial behaviour starts.”
One local man with a unique perspective is Gordon Marshall, a Karajarri man and a grandfather of 15, who recently retired after 23 years as an Aboriginal Police Liaison Officer.
“The issues with the kids stem from problems at home — they don’t want to be there because of the things going on, so they go out and they mix with friends and sometimes there’s peer pressure to do these crimes, or sometimes the break-ins we find are to get food or money,” he said.
“It does make me sad because a lot of these kids, I know their families, they’re good local people.”
“I think part of the problem is that the parents aren’t sure how to discipline their kids — they’ve been told they’re not allowed to give their kid a small smack, which might actually be helpful, so they don’t know what to do and discipline has gone out of the window.”
There are currently a record number of Kimberley children serving time at Banksia Hill Detention Centre. (ABC News)
For years there have been calls for an alternative juvenile justice facility to be established in WA’s north, an idea supported by Senator Patrick Dodson.
“The alternative is to have a place in the Kimberley, where these young kids can be subject to education, training and skilling, learning about their country and culture, and acquiring the skills they’ll need to be employable and to be good leaders in our society.”
The McGowan Labor Government, elected in March 2017, has expressed support for such an idea, but there are currently no funds allocated.
Corrections Minister Fran Logan said he was aware of the issue, and a cabinet sub-committee is looking at how the juvenile justice system could be improved.
“We are required from cabinet at a certain stage to come back with a plan for the Kimberley, in terms of a model for justice in the Kimberley.
“Obviously we’re trying to do that work at a time when we’re absolutely constrained by the budget that we’ve been left with.”
He said the hand-cuffing of children as young as 11 and 12 was necessary.
“It depends on the level of the crime, but if they’re been flown down to Perth and remanded in Banksia Hill, well that means what ever they’re been charged with is very serious.”