WE NEED TO WORK TOGETHER: Chinchilla Police Liaison Officer Robyn Jennings. Pic: Supplied
WE NEED TO WORK TOGETHER: Chinchilla Police Liaison Officer Robyn Jennings. Pic: Supplied

YOUTH CRIME: Community needs to back at-risk teens

YOUTH crime has been at the forefront of Chinchilla residents’ minds after more than a year of widespread break and enters, stolen cars and police pursuits which has caused unease, distrust, and fear in the community, but a bold and new solution has been set in motion.

In the first 10 months of 2020, the town of Chinchilla and its residents have been living through a prolonged crimespree, with 48 cars stolen since January, exactly double the amount for the same time period in 2019.
With 85 Chinchilla homes being broken into in 2020 so far and youth offenders behind some of the crimes, the community has been quick to react - with two petitions launched demanding action which has drawn the attention of Queensland police minister Mark Ryan and resulted in new localised police programs to tackle the complex issue.

Chinchilla police’s first and only liaison officer, Robyn Jennings, has been working to bridge the gap between the community and police for almost four years and now she’s determined to connect young offenders and the community in a positive way.

The former teacher aid, said Chinchilla residents deserve to feel safe in their homes, however believed if the youth crime issue was going to be solved, everyone needed to “think outside the box” to tackle the leading causes of offending.

“You’re not just dealing with juvenile crime, you’re dealing with generational trauma too,” Ms Jennings said.

“Some people don’t understand there are layers and layers of generational problems and trauma that haven’t been dealt with.

“There’s been some support, but no mechanisms put in place to actually help people move past that stage in their lives.

“It’s also about disadvantage and the history of disadvantage, if you’re not shown a different way, you’re just born into it, how are you to know any different?”

To help reduce youth crime and support teens, police are working directly with at-risk teens and their families, community groups, government organisations, and key members of the community on a holistic solution.

One approach police are developing to help at risk offenders see a path other than crime, is the Community Liaison Group, which provides them with new skills in a supportive environment.

Heading the group, Ms Jennings said it’s about focusing on a positive solution..

“We need to work collaboratively as a community…. (and) create the programs here, own the programs, and sustain the programs, and rely on each other for support - that is only way we are going to get people to step outside their comfort zone and say ‘I’m willing to give a hand,’” she said.

“There’s so many different organisations working together to try and break down small aspects of youth crime… but we as a community need to be ready to offer these kids that chance at applying for a job or giving them work experience.

“I don’t want people to say that these kids are lost, and they can’t be saved. We have to try as much as we can to turn it into a positive instead of always looking at it negatively.”

For real and lasting change, Ms Jennings said it’s crucial to engage with children from a young age to create a better relationship between police and the community.

Ms Jennings said some parts of the community wrongly assume a particular group of teenagers are behind every car theft, which can lead to more division within the town.

“How do you think it makes them feel when they’ve been doing well, and people start blaming them?” she said.

“They don’t feel accepted because as soon as they walk out that door they are judged. Yes, they have to accept they have done those crimes, but they don’t deserve to be judged for the rest of their lives because of something they’ve done (as a teenager).

Ms Jennings said she is working with senior constable Vincent Bradley on the Queensland Blue Light Association program ‘Blue EDGE,’ to help a diverse group of Year 9 and 10 Chinchilla State High School students develop skills and attitudes needed to integrate into society smoothly.

The Blue EDGE (educate, develop, grow, empower) program includes physical training, career education, motivational speakers, and mentoring, to help youth realise and access their potential.

“It creates a great support network… we are working with people who are helping each other, and those kids are learning a very valuable skills for the future,” she said.

“But how do you break the cycle of generational trauma? It’s very difficult. We’re just trying to show the next generation a different way.”