Watching intruders enter her sleeping daughter’s room was the worst part of the break-in at Kate Uilisone’s home in Alice Springs.
- Community concerns about crime in Alice Springs have spiralled since an October fatal hit-and-run
- The highest crime increase is in the number of domestic assaults, up 30 per cent on last year
- The NT Government is flagging the return of controversial court orders for parents of young offenders
The 40-minute home invasion was captured on grainy security camera footage. On it, four teenagers are seen scouring the home in the suburb of Gillen as the family of three slept.
The 15 and 16-year-olds allegedly broke in through the kitchen window and stole cash, shoes, alcohol and a car.
Her two-year-old daughter wasn’t harmed or disturbed, but Ms Uilisone, who first shared her story with ABC Alice Springs, says watching the CCTV left her feeling cold.
“They took the car keys right from our bedside while we were asleep,” she said.
The teenagers allegedly involved were arrested by detectives from Strike Force Viper, a new NT Police operation targeting property crime and car theft.
A 16-year-old boy was charged and refused bail while two 15-year-olds and later a 14-year-old were bailed to be considered for youth diversion.
Home break-ins up, fatal crash crisis point
On social media, talkback radio and in conversations around the town, the constantly simmering concern about property crime and anti-social behaviour in Alice Springs has been approaching boiling point.
Police statistics show home break-ins in Alice Springs have been rising for four years in a row, with 569 recorded in the year to September.
Commercial break-ins are up almost 10 per cent on last year. Car thefts, meanwhile, are at their lowest in three years.
But it was the death in October of motorcyclist Shane Powell, who was allegedly knocked off his bike in a late-night hit-and-run involving a car full of teenagers, that sent a fresh shockwave of anger and despair through the town.
Since then there has been confronting footage showing a man being punched and kicked in the head in Alice Springs’ CBD shared widely on social media.
Vision of a car, allegedly driven by a 14-year-old, hooning in the town centre, has also been posted online.
Last week, Chief Minister Michael Gunner flew into town for a briefing on the work of Strike Force Viper, which government spokespeople have told media will remain in place indefinitely.
The Chief Minister declined interview requests when he was in town.
But the Government has been keen to highlight some statistics from the crime crackdown — since the strike force began work in mid-October police have submitted 217 prosecution files, with 106 relating to children.
Domestic violence spikes, kids flee unsafety
The biggest spike among the stats is in the area of domestic violence.
In the year to September, domestic assaults were up 30 per cent to a seven-year high of 1,037, an increase mirrored across the NT .
Territory Families Minister Kate Worden said it’s “not rocket science” that violence at home is one reason young people are out roaming the streets, with poverty another major factor.
“They’re the factors that we need to address,” she said.
Last month, the Northern Territory Government launched a trial of a 24-hour drop-in service , running on Friday and Saturday nights at a Territory Families-run facility.
The Government says almost 300 children came through the doors in the facility’s first two weekends.
Alice Springs youth worker Barb Shaw wants to see a permanent 24-hour space opened in the town, with beds for children who need them.
“Some of our kids go all night without eating or sleeping,” she said.
“If they don’t want to go home then there should be 24-hour bedding somewhere for our youth and also helping our children deal and tackle the drug and alcohol issues that they may have.”
Alyawarre man Michael Liddle visits children in youth detention every week as part of a program he runs to keep children connected to their culture.
He’s gone as far as saying some young people should be sent away to escape the cycle , a suggestion others say is borne of despair and will create more harm.
Mr Liddle sees many of the young men in detention as victims themselves, let down by poverty, poor education and displaced from under-serviced remote communities.
“I just think that there’s been many, many years of not giving Aboriginal people real purpose in life and that real purpose comes in the form of education.”
Court orders for parents set to ‘return’
Ms Worden, who took over as minister when former Alice Springs MLA Dale Wakefield lost her seat at the August election, said the youth justice and child protection reforms introduced in Labor’s first term were still taking effect.
The Territory Families department says it can’t yet provide recidivism data after one year’s operation of the government’s expanded diversion program Back on Track.
The Country Liberals Opposition has led calls for stronger short-term action, including harsher bail laws and the implementation of pre-election Labor policy promises like forcing young offenders to clean graffiti.
Among the new ideas flagged was the “return” of Family Responsibility Agreements and orders, which were introduced in 2008 and remain in legislation, but are rarely used.
The orders currently allow for prosecution, fines of up to $2,200 or the seizure of non-essential household items if parents or carers don’t comply with “agreements” made with Territory Families.
A spokeswoman for Ms Worden’s office said those punishments didn’t previously work and are under review as part work underway to “adjust” the over-arching policy.
Ms Worden said the agreements and orders will be designed to support families, but went on to mention child removal as a last resort when government agencies were involved.
“Each agreement will be unique to the family situation and in it, we will have a pathway forward so that the family will be strengthened,” she said.
The Government did not say who had been consulted about the revival of the agreements and orders, which were previously strongly opposed by Aboriginal groups because of their punitive nature.
In the meantime, government agencies in Alice Springs say they’ve renewed efforts to better coordinate their work, with a trial of new multi-agency meetings happening every week since October.
Dubbed Operation Lunar, that effort is also led by police as well as Territory Families, who meet housing, health and education officials to discuss case management of the 15 families currently being investigated by the team.
It’s all happening while Ms Uilisone is still working on sleeping through the night.
The family has bought more security cameras and upgraded their settings since the break-in, but she says the ordeal has her questioning her family’s future in the town.
“I’ve always had friends that have spoken about [how] it’s almost time to leave,” she said.
“I’ve never been at that place mentally at all, but this has definitely changed my mentality about how long we stay in Alice Springs.
“It will be interesting what happens over the next few months, few years. We certainly don’t want to leave yet but we would if that’s what it came down to.”
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