Northern Territories Government turns to private security patrols as anti-social behavior rises, raising questions over police staffing

When Stephen Farrawell bought a house in Karama, he hoped to invest in a quiet life in the leafy northern suburbs of Darwin.

More than two decades later, he says, alcohol-related disorders in the area have become so common that some local families are beginning to avoid public spaces altogether.

The retired civil servant leads a group of residents lobbying for government action against disorderly behavior, but he says many of them felt frontline responses were too slow.

“You never see a police car, ever,” he said.

“There are no patrols and that’s where the police have really let the community down – because their resources are prioritized elsewhere.”

In response to their concerns, the Northern Territory Government employed overnight private security patrols at a cost to the taxpayer of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The government says the measure, known as the Public Order Response Unit, is a short-term solution while tackling the drivers of crime, not a replacement for the police.

The Northern Territory Government has deployed Public Order Response Units to problem areas.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

But doubts were raised after local member Ngaree Ah Kit said there were not enough police patrolling the streets, in a recent interview with ABC Radio Darwin.

The police department has admitted it is dealing with an unprecedented number of calls for help every day, with Assistant Commissioner Travis Wurst saying officers are prioritizing their responses based on community needs and expectations.

“While not all calls require a police response, the frontline police demand environment is important,” he said in a statement.

Since June, a security patrol unit has been deployed to Ms. Ah Kit’s headquarters in Karama on a trial basis, at a cost of around $250,000 per quarter.

The government said the team is qualified in de-escalation, cultural awareness and mental health first aid, and carry body-worn cameras and a trained dog.

Another unit patrols the central business district of the satellite town of Palmerston.

Both areas are in constituencies held by Labor ministers, but in a statement Chief Minister Natasha Fyles said the locations were chosen based on levels of anti-social behaviour.

Low morale in police force, survey finds

The patrols were mobilized shortly before a survey by the unions found the police force was facing low morale and high attrition rates.

Northern Territory Police Association chairman Paul McCue said the funding – nearly $1 million in this and the previous year – would be better invested in attracting and retaining police .

“The idea of ​​a second level police service, when 93% of our officers recently surveyed tell us that there are not enough police officers to do the job asked of them,” he said. he declares.

“It’s not only ridiculous, but it’s like putting a bandage on a broken leg.

“Security patrols may be fine for buildings and other premises, but general street patrols should be dismissed for what they are, an insult to members of the Northern Territories Police who are able to do the job…s ‘they have the appropriate resources.”

An image of Palmerston from above.
There are calls to extend the service to the suburbs of Palmerston and Alice Springs in the face of anti-social behavior.(ABC News: Michael Donnelly)

Calls for the extension of patrols

While Ms Ah Kit welcomed the security patrols to her constituency, others are mystified as to why their region missed out.

Steve Shearer runs a car rental service in Alice Springs and said repeated criminal behavior has caused his overhead to skyrocket.

“Over the years we’ve had burglaries and attempted burglaries and things like that, but lately it’s just been vandalism – breaking windows, throwing rocks and all that kind of stuff,” did he declare.

“We have to try different things to try to stop what’s happening, and I think maybe we need canine patrols here.”

Man driving a car with both hands on the wheel
Blain MLA Mark Turner says his community wants private security patrolling their streets.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

Mark Turner, a former police officer and current Labor politician who does not sit in the party caucus, said he also asked for the service to be extended to his suburban headquarters in Palmerston.

“The police had time to be proactive; they had time to talk to people,” he said.

“Now they are slaves to the radio. They literally go from job to job.

“They don’t have time to talk to young people, to see what they are doing, to see what the problems are.”

Mr Farrawell said the response units had roughly halved the number of anti-social behaviors in the area he had called home for more than two decades.

Man with hands together looking out of louvers
Although Stephen Farrawell claims that private security units improve the situation, he is not yet convinced that they effectively address anti-social behavior.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

But he thought they may have pushed the problem into neighboring suburbs as well.

“They are angry because they now know what the people of Karama and Malak have been going through for so long,” he said.

“The problem is changing. It is not solved.”

The government previously funded a private security patrol in downtown Alice Springs in 2019.

He is expected to announce new measures on Wednesday to tackle anti-social behavior in the city.

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