CRIME DOWN: How Chinchilla cops reduced levels of youth offences
Seven months ago Chinchilla reached breaking point as fear and uncertainly permeated residents day to day lives, too sacred to walk to a park in case their kids were hit by a stolen car - although through the combined forces of police and Youth Justice a semblance of safety has returned.
A surge in car thefts, break-ins and police pursuits through the streets of Chinchilla between late 2019 and August 2020 came to a boiling point last year which was the catalyst for local police and the Department of Youth Justice to join forces to stop the trajectory of crimes committed by juveniles.
At the time in August 2020, Chinchilla, officer in charge Sergeant Andrew Irvine said it would be only a matter of time before someone was killed.
Although the Western Downs community has escaped tragedy during these spates of crime, juvenile offences were thrust into the spotlight only months later on Australia Day, 2021 when a 15-year-old allegedly driving a stolen car crashed and killed Kate Leadbetter, Matt Field and their unborn son in Brisbane.
Sergeant Irvine said the collaborative partnership with a number of government organisations has been helping officers' carry out direct on the ground meetings with youths most at risk of reoffending.
"These partnerships (involve) sharing of information as per the relevant MOU and involves engaging with at risk youth who are subject to community based supervised orders or bail requirements," he said.
Sergeant Irvine said the program successfully helped the teens develop positive decision-making skills which reduced the risks of reoffending and increased community safety.
During the weekly program, YJ for a day, plain-clothed police officers accompany a youth justice case worker during the young offenders reporting sessions.
Youth Justice Toowoomba and southwest service centre manager Leigh Wright said the Chinchilla-based program, YJ for a day, was designed after discussions on how to build stronger relationships within the community.
"They decided to run a program that was informal interactions with the police, the purpose of that was to build relationships between the young people, their families, and police, because there was quite a lot of angst within the community," she said.
Ms Wright said one aspect of the program was to de-escalate tensions in the town and "to prevent inappropriate responses within the community".
"There was a lot of activity with community members approaching the government, writing petitions highlighting their concerns around criminal activity by youth in town," she said.
"This program evolved as a result... and Youth Justice's approach was to de-escalate some of the angst and support our young people to feel safe in the community, and assist them in having a more positive focus, and a greater acceptance - which is as a direct result of the good work of (the Chinchilla) YJ case worker."
Ms Wright said the new program aimed to reduce crime and create a sense of purpose for youths who were at risk of offending.
"It also assists youth to reconnect with their community, to create a sense of inclusiveness, and develop a sense of self-worth, identity, and hopefully some positive hopes for the future," she said.