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FIFO police unit to patrol APY Lands

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A specialist police group of officers from South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory will be sent to the APY Lands on a fly-in fly-out basis, as part of the SA Government’s $1 million cost-cutting overhaul to policing in the state’s far north.

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A State Government spokesperson told InDaily earlier this week a “state tactical response unit” would be sent to Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara communities on a rotating basis from next year.

The staffing change follows the Government’s announcement of a new “national first” Indigenous police service, which aims to boost the number of Aboriginal people working as police officers or community constables across the state.

Information provided to InDaily this afternoon from Police Minister Corey Wingard’s office states no policing services would be reduced as a result of the new service model.

“The new model will ensure the continued presence of a senior sergeant within the APY Lands,” the information states.

“The region will be serviced by detectives from Port Augusta who will be flown into the APY lands on a cyclic roster, thereby providing a continual detective presence within the Lands throughout the year.

“This investigator will be supported by additional Family Violence Investigators.

There will also be two SAPOL officers co-located in Alice Springs to enhance the collaboration between South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia police services as part of the cross border regional response.”

The Government insists the new service model will “increase flexibly and mobility of police within the region”.

It said it would also build new police facilities at Indulkana, Pipalyatjara and Fregon, along with a residential facility at Blackstone in WA and a multi-agency facility in Umuwa.

The announcement was welcomed by APY Lands general manager Richard King, who said his executive board was “okay” with all the proposed changes to policing on the lands.

“I’m sure whoever the police bring out will be culturally trained and culturally competent and willing to deliver a service that protects everybody,” he said.

‘They want to make sure they’re out there community policing, rather than policing community.

“It’s something that’s been needed and the police have responded, to their credit.”

In March InDaily reported that the Government had, since the 1980s, struggled to fill the 10 full-time community constable positions on the APY Lands– with only three community constables currently working on the lands.

That is despite SA Police offering to pay Anangu people upwards of $57,450 a year to train as community constables.

The declining recruitment rate prompted Police Minister Corey Wingard to visit the APY Lands earlier this year to speak to community members about the Government’s plan for a new Indigenous police service.

Anangu Lands Paper Tracker host Sue Tilley said she welcomed the Government’s commitment to increase the number of community constable positions on the APY Lands, but she questioned how recruitment targets could be achieved with decreased funding.

“It will be important for the Government to outline an explicit strategy for recruiting more community constables as they have been struggling to fill those positions for a number of years,” she said.

Tilley said sending in fly-in fly-out officers from a tactical response unit seemed “at face-value a little heavy-handed” and would make it harder to do “decent policing”.

“These are communities where people live, this isn’t a war zone or a place of heightened tension,” she said.

“What people in community need is quick access to police who are responsive.

“People need to be able to call the police and say, ‘Hey, there’s a fight going down the road, can you help?’

“For this to happen, it requires that people are able to trust the police as a result of seeing the same faces in the community – fly-in-fly-out arrangements won’t really enable this.”

Shadow Police Minister Lee Odenwalder described the changes to policing in the APY Lands as “extremely concerning”.

“People living in the APY Lands deserve the same permanent and professional police service that the rest of us have access to, and that keeps us all safe,” he said.

“We need to know just how many sworn police will be permanently stationed on the APY Lands, if any at all.”

State Budget papers state the staffing changes are expected to be implemented by July next year.

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