– Community leaders have joined police on regular patrols in Dandenong as the force tries to improve ties with troubled ethnic youths.
The ethnically diverse city has crime rates almost 40% higher than the state average, and Victoria Police is anxious to avoid the sort of problems it has recently had over racial profiling.
In February, police settled a claim that they had racially profiled six young men of African descent in the Flemington area. They had spent about $3 million fighting the claim before deciding to settle.
The program, named Operation Pylet, is based on a similar model used in Sydney’s west, and involves community leaders joining police on Friday and Saturday nights as they visit shopping centres, parties and streets with high levels of petty crime. Fairfax Media was given exclusive access to the first shift on the beat.
Sergeant Joey Herrech modified the Sydney and international versions of similar programs to suit Dandenong and surrounding suburbs. He said Pylet was a logical fit for the region and an acknowledgment the force had foaled to communicate with some youths in the past.
Pacific Islanders and Sudanese community leaders wee informed by Victoria Police last year that their populations were overrepresented in crime statistics. The figures were not released publicly.
Sergeant Herrech said that while the program was not directly linked with the cultural background of youths, that would be a focus in suburbs where certain ethnic groups had large populations.
Sudanese and Pacific Islander leaders have been involved in the first Pylet shifts. The leaders are volunteers and given background checks before their appointment. They wear civilian clothes with a high-visibility vest similar to those worn by officers, but with Pylet instead of police on the front.
Youths spoken to during a Pylet shift will be encouraged to participate in community programs.
Sergeant Herrech said it was vital to move away from “judge, jury and executioner” style policing to ensure youths were not stuck in a cycle of offending. “It’s no secret that we’ve got a strong representation of anti-social behaviours and groups of young people gathering and reducing perceptions of safety, they are our core issues,” he said.
While youth advocates and community legal services commended the police settlement of the civil case involving racial profiling in February, there have been several other recent cases involving allegedly racist officers.
In March, the ABC reported that court documents filed as part of the racial profiling case detailed a secret police operation, codenamed Molto, that targeted young African Australians living in or visiting the Flemington public housing estate in 2006.
The operation was designed to investigate a series of thefts, but police reportedly received almost 30 formal complaints alleging police harassment, abuse, and teenagers being dumped after police bashings. None of the complaints were upheld.
Fairfax Media reported last May that Victoria Police had made payouts totalling tens of thousands of dollars to immigrant youths who have accused officers of physical brutality and racism during incidents dating back to 2006 – Niño Bucci


About Jumpin' Jack Cash
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