Alcohol is a symptom rather than the cause of Fitzroy Crossing’s problems, and the underlying factors need a multi-agency approach, the town’s cop top has told the National Indigenous Times.
In recent weeks a string of break-ins has hit businesses and organisations across the town, and truck drivers have had their vehicles pelted with stones.
Videos also emerged of young people driving utes stolen from Fitzroy Crossing around Halls Creek, as part of a trend in the area to boast on social media.
Senior sergeant Larry Miller, Officer in Charge at Fitzroy Crossing station, has been a police officer for 40 years, 27 in the Kimberley.
“Kids steal cars in Fitzroy Crossing and go up to Halls Creek to challenge the kids in Halls Creek on social media. It is a is a Kimberley-wide issue,” he said.
“Our role is to enforce the law… That’s our core businesses, though we do take on engagement with community members. At the end of the day there are deeper social issues that are not for police to address,” he said.
“Everyone bangs the drum, calling for more cops. The question is; what is being done to address the causal factors in this matter? There are a number of issues in that.
“Drinking is a major issue but is it a cause or is it a symptom? It is a symptom. There are a lot of complex social issues which get people into drinking… [Even] though there is no take-away alcohol sold in the town, it is being brought in and it is also being sold illegally.”
He noted alcohol was not the only substance being abused, with petrol-sniffing an ongoing issue and roadhouses in town not exclusively using low-aromatic fuel.
“It is not a criminal offence – it’s a health issue. There is a VSU [Volatile substance use] Unit based in Broome we work with… trying to solve it. We are working on trying to remove that fuel from the roadhouses. We are working hard with it, we clean out the hoses and keep the excesses in gerry cans and hide the cans, we warn people to empty their lawnmowers in the same way.”
A State Government spokesperson told the National Indigenous Times the most recent advice provided to the Mental Health Commission was that the majority of fuel supplied in the Fitzroy Crossing area is now low aromatic, and that while premium unleaded fuel is available, it is sold in “relatively low volumes”.
The spokesperson said the WA Government funds Community Alcohol and Drug Services to implement prevention strategies to reduce and prevent drug related harm, including “the coordination of the regional response to volatile substance use through the VSU Incident Reporting and Response system”.
National Indigenous Times understands that the state’s Mental Health Minister is seeking a briefing on the use of low aromatic fuel in the Fitzroy Crossing area.
Snr Sgt Miller said many of the people drinking regularly were not necessarily alcoholics, but their drinking has become “a habitual thing, engrained”.
“These deep-seeded social issues are things that have to be addressed. A lot of it comes back to dysfunction in the homes. If we take the kids home, they will be out the window and out again as soon as we leave, why would they stay home if they’re at risk there?”
He referred to the work being done by local bodies to engage with youth.
“People like Anthony Collard from Nindilingarri [Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services] are the future leaders of towns like Fitzroy Crossing. Maureen Carter is a fantastic strong leader in town and she supports what they are doing.
“Kenny from the Shire has developed a sensational relationship with the youth and is a real role model. Marra Worra Worra have done a power of work with WA Police, which has set the platform for what is now happening.”
Snr Sgt Miller said there is a group of about 25 young people in the area that are core serial offenders, while the vast majority of children and youth are not engaged in serious criminal activity.
“Kids aged 11, 12 will be throwing rocks at us from the dark and half an hour later they will be talking to us, having a yarn. They are throwing rocks because they think we might chase after them and it’s a bit of a game. They don’t think about the fact they might miss and hurt somebody.
“However, there are a group of kids who are out there doing it to be destructive… The magistrate has to deal with them – but it’s bigger than the magistrates… They have rules and regulations they have to follow as well.”
“If the community is unhappy with the outcomes, voters need to speak with Ministers to make the changes.”
He noted that recent awards for Fitzroy Crossing officers were for their work with “hundreds of kids” across the many communities in the district.
“There are hundreds of kids in this town they we engage with that don’t commit offences… They live in the same conditions, and some of them would have the same problems at home, but they don’t steal cars or burgle homes… (They) engage with Anthony Collard and his team, with Kenny, Garnduwa, and my Youth Officers every day of the week… 95% of the juvenile population in Fitzroy Crossing are not committing offences.”
Snr Sgt Miller said that while WA Police “have a key role to play” a range of organisations and agencies “need to be involved here”.
Andrew Geddes, the Department of Communities Executive Director of Service Delivery, told the National Indigenous Times that “all stakeholders”, including the Shire of Derby West Kimberley, government agencies, non-government agencies and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, “agree that a multi-agency response is required to address antisocial and criminal behaviour”.
“The Department continues to fund services targeted towards youth and their families in the Kimberley region, including the Fitzroy Valley Youth Hub facilitated by Garnduwa Amboorny Wirnan Aboriginal Corporation.
“Local service providers have also commenced providing additional activities in targeted areas… Discussions are under way… regarding a night patrol for Fitzroy Crossing, with a focus on young people,” he said.
These additional activities have been running for approximately three months, but break-ins, car thefts and other offences have continued in recent weeks, leading some in the community to ask when things will begin to turn around.
On the morning of 21 December, National Indigenous Times asked WA Police three questions regarding the third “Operation Heat Shield” in the Kimberley region, announced to address any spike in crime during the Christmas/New Year’s period:
- How many extra [staff] hours?
- Where precisely the extra resources would be deployed?
- What pro-active measures are being put in place?
As of COB 3 January, we had received no answers.
By Giovanni Torre