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Positive relations between police and community

REDFERN: This month marks a special milestone for the life work of community member, Lesley Townsend – 15 years as the Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer with Redfern Police. On April 19, Lesley Townsend spoke with the SSH and reflected on the ground gained in developing a stronger community in the Redfern/ Waterloo area reports Kate Williamson in the May 2012 edition of The South Sydney Herald.

“When I came to the role 15 years ago the drug and alcohol incidences, especially around The Block area, were very significant. It was out of control, really. But over the last five to six years things have improved out of sight,” Ms Townsend said.

“There was a history of mistrust and hatred between the Aboriginal community and the police that needed to be reconciled. This stemmed from the Aboriginal Protection Board era when kids were taken from their families and it was up to the local sergeant and constable in the area to do that.

“Back in the mid ’80s the Aboriginal community and the police decided they wanted a better relationship so they put together Aboriginal units within the police service and from these units employed Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers.

“A key role of an ACLO is to intervene when an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is in custody. They make sure that their legal rights are met, that they are fine, and not at risk of harm or hurt in any way. We also contact legal services and family friends.

“When I started we really saw the need to build on this liaison work and work more closely with the community, especially young people.

“In the late ’90s it seemed like we were fighting a losing battle with the drug use and associated crime in the area. It was distressing for many of us who have lived in the area for years to see our own people selling drugs to kids.

“Then the police started programs in partnerships with the community. For example, about six years ago we organised camps with the kids. This proved to be very successful. I started to hear of kids that would come to the police station and ask for a certain constable or sergeant who they had met on the camp. If the kids saw an officer on the street they would stop and talk to them. They wouldn’t run away if they saw a police vehicle on The Block. That’s one of the things we don’t want anymore. We don’t want the kids to be scared of police. We want to build up a really good rapport.

“And about four years ago the current Local Area Commander, Superintendent Luke Freudenstein, launched the Clean Slate Without Prejudice program which is a program that worked with the kids who were getting into trouble, trying to clean up their act. They would participate in a variety of programs such as boxing, touch football, OzTag or anything like that. Tribal Warrior, a community organisation led by Shane Phillips and managed by the elders, worked very hard to make these programs a success by running mentoring programs.

“Our crime rate with youth in the area has dropped dramatically over the years. It really has, and it is all thanks to people like Shane Phillips, Superintendent Luke Freudenstein, our youth liaison officers and many others.

“Holding the Family and Culture Day every month on The Block for the last four years has also brought positive change. Shane Phillips and others involved would get out days before these events, walk around The Block, knocking on doors and handing out brochures, spreading the message that these days were for our community, to bring the community back together and that there will be no dealers, no drugs and no alcohol. The police were keen to come along to the events to show their support.

“Now that The Block is under development, the event has moved to Waterloo Green. The first was held in February and was a great success. There was face painting, jumping castles, live entertainment, and with a variety of cultures such as Chinese dancers and international singers. We see it as an opportunity for elders and children to feel comfortable and safe in their community.”

The next Family and Culture Day will be on Saturday May 26, from 12 midday to 3pm at Waterloo Green.

Source: The South Sydney Herald May 2012 –