Indigenous Law Bulletin
by Felicity Millner
Operation Shuteye is an operation run by Adelaide police that aims to keep youths off the city streets at night. The first instalment of the operation, Operation Shuteye I (‘OS1’), involved picking up youths who remained out on the streets after midnight and taking them home in a police minibus. Initially run for six weeks between April and May this year, the operation focused on city areas such as Hindley Street and Rundle Mall. Police stated that the aims of OS1 were to reduce crime in the inner city and protect youths. As a result of the operation, 74 youths were taken home in a police bus and another 22 were either arrested or issued with informal cautions.
OS1 has not been viewed as a success by everyone. The Adelaide Inner City Youth Service (‘AICYS’) and Kumangka Youth Services Aboriginal Corporation (‘Kumangka’) both perform street work and crisis care for inner city and Indigenous youth. They have witnessed first hand the effect of OS1 on young people. Both organisations are critical of OS1, describing it as ‘harassment’.
Prior to OS1, police and youth workers cooperated pursuant to a formal Protocol agreed upon in 1997. The Protocol was formulated following a series of workshops aimed at developing a working relationship between police and youth workers. According to the Protocol, police would contact the youth workers if there was any trouble with ‘at risk’ youths. According to Frank Nam of Kumangka this system worked well, largely due to the rapport that the youth workers had built with the young people. Mr Nam expressed concern that OS1 interfered with this rapport.
Shelley Belmont of AICYS also expressed similar criticisms of OS1 in the following interview:
What have been the main effects of OS1?
In Adelaide, the combination of the dry zone (alcohol free zone) and Operation Shuteye encourages young people to find meeting places outside the city, predominately in unsafe zones like the parklands. This puts them at greater risk than when they are frequenting the city.
Working closely with Kumangka Aboriginal Youth service, we have also observed that the operation has the potential to become an unofficial curfew for mainly Indigenous young people. To our knowledge, curfews in other capital cities have not provided positive outcomes for young people. Instead, there is an increased probability of young people being criminalised and for Indigenous people to be further marginalised.
What have been the effects of OS1 on Indigenous youths?
AICYS has seen a marked decline in the numbers of Indigenous young people meeting and socialising in the city over the last six months. OS1 may have been one of the factors contributing to this. In our conversations with young Indigenous people they make it very clear they do not like to come into the city because they feel harassed and heckled the whole time by police. Furthermore, they are harassed due to the way they dress, look and simply because they are Indigenous.
What do the kids you work with think of OS1?
They feel it was an invasion of their privacy and a form of police harassment.
Despite a lack of evidence establishing either a reduction of crime and violence in city areas or an improvement to the safety of youths, the police viewed OS1 as a success. As a result, they are planning a second instalment of the operation, Operation Shuteye II (‘OS2’).
However, due to criticisms from organisations such as Kumangka and AICYS, OS2 will function differently to OS1. Most importantly, police agreed to cooperate with the youth workers in both the planning and execution stages of OS2.
The process of cooperation began when the Inner City Aboriginal Forum and police came together to discuss how Operation Shuteye could be improved. The members of the Forum generally supported the rationale for the operation, but had several concerns with the way OS1 was put into practice by police. Their major concern was that youths were transported home even when it may not have been the best place for the youths to be transported to. Furthermore, there was no follow-up by police with the young people who were transported home. The Forum was also worried that the police were focusing their attention on Aboriginal young people, rather than young people in general. Moreover, members of the Forum were concerned that there was no consultation with them before OS1, contrary to the 1997 Protocol.
As a result of these discussions, several major changes will be made to Operation Shuteye. Firstly, police officers from the Drug Action Team and a Community Constable will assist local police officers. These police will then liaise with workers from Kumangka, the Attorney-General’s Crime Prevention Unit, and Mobile Assistance Patrol (‘MAP’) to identify which youths are ‘at risk’. MAP is a community organisation that transports people to detox centres and crisis beds. This step is an important change, as it decreases the likelihood of Aboriginal youths being discriminated against by police.
Once youths are identified as being ‘at risk’ they will be given several options. If it is before midnight, youths will be encouraged to catch public transport home by Kumangka or police. After midnight when public transport ceases, youths can either be picked up by a parent or guardian from AICYS or a police station, or transported to their home or a requested relative’s home by MAP, Kumangka or police. These steps mean youths are more likely to be taken to a safe place. Furthermore, they are given several options about how they can get home so they are less likely to feel harassed.
Once the youths are taken home there will be follow-up communication with parents or guardians by police through youth liaison officers. This will give parents the opportunity to take an active part in discouraging their child from being out on the streets at night. It will also inform the parents or guardians of the possible outcomes if the youths keep going out at night. This may become an important step in preventing the youths committing crime or being a victim of crime. However, when the police take youths home there is no process in place to refer them to a youth worker if they need further help or counselling. This will make it difficult for youth workers to monitor the operation and evaluate its effects.
Shelley Belmont indicated that AICYS will wait to see OS2 in operation before it passes judgment on whether it is an appropriate policy.
We are of the opinion that because we were not included in OS1, it was not in any way appropriate. However, we are involved in consultation with police, government agencies and other youth services looking at all aspects of a future operation in the inner city. We are keen to see how Operation Shuteye II operates in the inner city following these consultations. Once this run is complete, we will be willing to make a judgement as to whether or not it is appropriate for the outer suburbs. We certainly do not suggest anything should be started in the suburbs before a similar consultation takes place with appropriate organisations.
The problem with schemes like Operation Shuteye is the criminalisation of youth behaviour. A significant number of youths were arrested or cautioned during OS1. As part of OS2 police will be given a guide to offences that may be ‘committed by groups’. The guide will inform police when they may use their powers under OS2. Offences specified in the guide include disorderly behaviour, failure to cease loitering, and consorting. It is easy to imagine how youths in the city and in groups could easily be arrested for crimes such as these. Operation Shuteye II is expected to commence this year, but no date has been announced.
Felicity Millner is a law student at the University of New South Wales.