PCYC WA Chief Executive Officer, John Gillespie, says the focus has to be on why they’re doing it and how to make an effective change.
Gillespie says there’s a particular trend amongst young Indigenous kids and that is they’re looking for a thrill.
“Regional kids have a lot more time on their hands, they’re looking for a thrill, things that will keep there attention and keep them entertained because they’ve got nothing else to really do,” he said.
“The issue is that a lot of the time it’s kids from broken homes, who are trying to avoid the violent environment so they’re trying to escape from that life and enter this new one. It’s also the kids who aren’t doing well at school that turn to crime, because they can’t keep up and feel isolated.”
His comments come after 17 cars were stolen, on separate nights over the last week from dealerships in the outback town of Kununurra.
On one occasion thieves broke into a dealership and obtained keys from a locked office, and another saw perpetrators drive through two front glass doors, and another through a locked gate, damaging the dealership building. One car was found crashed in to a tree in bush land.
WA Police had to call for calm as angry locals threatened with vigilante action against the children involved in the thefts.
Gillespie says a different approach has to be taken in order to make change happen.
“PCYC are looking at being there when the young people need us most. Generally those times are after school and into the weird hours of the morning from Thursday to Sunday,” he said.
“The only way these problems can be rooted out is not solely by police but a collaborative approach by community, family members and police. We need to look at other solutions and see how we can educate these young children to not participate in these types of behaviors.”
As well as the car crime spree, the town has also been rocked by the recent suicides of two teenage girls.
“We’re working collaboratively to look at a better outreach for these young people and understand what they need," he said.
We need to have relevant programs for these kids in place, not things they won’t enjoy, but the type of program has to be important to the young person, the group, the location so they stay interested.”
“By designing engaging programs kids can relate to, it will distill the problem of young people being out at night with nothing better to do then cause trouble or feel lost and unhappy.”
The Kimberley town has a population of less than 5000 and is close to the Northern Territory border.
The vigilante threats come after the recent eruption of racially-charged violence in Kalgoorlie, which followed anger over the death of Aboriginal teenager Elijah Doughty, who was riding an allegedly stolen motorbike when he was run off the road by its supposed owner, a 55-year-old man charged police charged with manslaughter.
Gillespie says we need to do something meaningful now rather than just talk about it.
“We can’t arrest our way out of a problem. We have to look for a solution and work together with police. Enough talking has taken place, now it’s time for action,” he said.
“It’s really about someone taking the responsibility and taking the time to mentor these young people and help them develop so they don’t go back onto the streets.”
The other big issue with young people is that they’re not getting a decent meal. Locals say there’s an increasing number of children stealing food because they’re not getting fed properly.
At PCYC their programs help teach kids how to prepare a good meal and how to eat sustainably during the day, so that way they’re getting a solid education and a meal to keep them focused, said Gillespie.
Other programs that have helped draw youth to the lights have been “Off The Rails” which is for youth who wander on the railway lines, so this helps track them down and bring them out of danger and back to the closest PCYC. Another great one that has provided promising results for helping limit crime and youth off the street is “Full Throttle” which helps youth repair push cycles and eventually engines further down the track.
Gillespie says programs targeting troubled Indigenous youth are essential to preventing crime. He believes everything changes when there’s opportunity and responsibility given.
“What this does is raises the sense of more responsibility amongst young people, which then gives them a purpose.”
“The important this is that we’ve got young people not going into the justice system because they’ve been given the opportunity to develop and evolve. We’re trying to extend this state wide and police are supporting us to move to places like Kununnurra but we’re restricted until we get more funding.”
Get them off the streets: PCYC History lurking in the dark
PCYC’s main mission is to get young people active in life, develop their skills, character and leadership; and prevent and reduce crime by and against young people.
The first PCYC was opened in Woolloomooloo, New South Wales on 1 April 1937 by the Police Commissioner, William John Mackay. They were modeled on the Nazi labour youth battalions, which he admired because they “subordinate the individual to the welfare of the nation”.
It included a membership of 400 boys and facilities such as a library containing 3000 books, wrestling, physical culture classes, debating and teams in the rugby league competition.
Gillespie says it's always given young men something to do and a community to be part of.
“That’s were PCYC came from, back after WWII because young people didn’t have role models so they wandered around the streets and got into mischief. That’s why the police boys started this club to help youth off the streets. To be honest nothing has changed and this is why we need more people to help mentor kids.”
But he says more still needs to be done.
"We’ve got an international conference coming up that were hosting about youth and community justice, called “Globalisation.” We're seeing how this affects youth in our society. So we’ve got lots of guests coming, keynote speakers from ASIO, Crime Intelligence Commission and The Hon. Wayne Martin - Chief Justice of Western Australian.
"We’re expecting great outcomes from this meeting, because these boys need us, they need our help."