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APY community policing crisis

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A crisis in community policing in the APY Lands has led to six full-time community constable positions remaining vacant, prompting Police Minister Corey Wingard to schedule a visit to the remote area to seek answers.

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SA Police told InDaily that since 1986, ten full-time community constable positions paying upwards of $57,450 a year have been available in the APY Lands, in the state’s Far North.

But while the ten positions were filled for more than a decade, only four are currently filled.

“SAPOL continues to recruit against any and all vacancies, but has experienced an obvious decline in the rate of participation within the APY Lands,” a spokesperson said.

“It is a significant decline that SAPOL is continually attempting to address.”

SAPOL declined to answer questions about how long it had been since all ten positions were filled.

Community constables are recruited from Aboriginal communities across the APY Lands to work alongside SA Police officers to resolve issues in the area.

Recruits are offered a three month, full-time paid training course at the SA Police academy, with the first one to three years of work paying between $57,451 to $63,484 a year.

After three years, constables can apply to become a senior community constable, which pays an annual salary of between $65,492 to $69,517.

Speaking on the Anangu Lands Paper Tracker radio program last week, Premier Steven Marshall – who also holds the Aboriginal Affairs ministerial portfolio – said the ten community constable positions remained a focus for SAPOL.

“But it’s fair to say that they have been unsuccessful in recruiting against that target,” he said.

“In fact, the participation rate on the community constable scheme has actually been declining, not increasing.”

Police Minister Corey Wingard told InDaily he is planning a visit to the APY Lands in the coming weeks to better understand the policing issues in the area.

“I know from first-hand experience in other regions that these constables provide a great benefit to their communities, but they have to be the right people for the job and not just appointed to fill vacancies,” he said.

“We are working very closely with SAPOL as we understand how important these constables are to the community.”

Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement CEO Cheryl Axleby said she had been aware of a decline in the recruitment of community constables in the APY Lands for “many, many years”.

“There is definitely a need for community constables, but I think it’s also about what are the career pathways for community constables and what power they have within the community and are they respectfully being given the power by police officers to be the contact point for the communities,” she said.

“What we do see is – and this happens in SAPOL in metro areas too where we have community constables – the initial intent is for them to be the go-between for communities and police, but we actually see them more and more filling in the gaps for SAPOL work.

“The career pathway can also be an issue because I understand once you’re a community constable it can be very difficult to transition into a police officer.”

Axleby speculated the cultural appropriateness of SAPOL’s recruitment processes could explain the decline in the number of people filling the community constable positions, but she said she had not heard any specific concerns from the community.

Anangu Lands Paper Tracker host Sue Tilley said from covering the issue in the past, SAPOL had told her they had no active recruitment strategy to drive uptake in the scheme.

She said the recruitment decline could be further explained by negative perceptions of the police in APY communities.

“If there was more of a sense of police being there for communities that might help, but there is sometimes an attitude that police are not there to listen to what communities are saying, which can be problematic,” she said.

“Police stations can be seen as a fortress – they are locked up at night and the police don’t answer the phone during those times.

“I have heard stories where someone has called the police at night following an incident, the police rocked up the next day to their house and so then the whole community knew who the person was that called the cops.

“There is definitely more that could be done to build the relationship between the police and the community.”

Tilley said community constables could also find it challenging to be seen as a police figure in their own community “when you do know everyone and you might be sorting out problems within your own family”.

Regional Anangu Services Aboriginal Corporation general manager Mark Jackman, who previously worked as a police officer in the APY Lands, agreed that family issues in the community could explain the low recruitment rate.

“There’s also things like criminal history checks which make it difficult (because) you’ve only got a limited scope of people to pick from anyway,” he said.

“I do know that they (SA Police) are looking at their models now and they’re looking at putting more stations in and hopefully creating more opportunities for income for the community.”

SA Police said it was currently developing a new employment model to encourage greater engagement and employment for Indigenous people.

It was also developing a new recruiting and policing model for the APY Lands “that is responsive and reflective of current and evolving community and cultural expectations”, a spokesperson said.

“SAPOL continues to recruit against any and all organisational vacancies which is inclusive of the vacancies currently experienced with the community constable positions on the APY Lands.”

The State Government has also set a target to increase the proportion of Aboriginal people working in SA Police to two per cent by 2020.

InDaily contacted the APY Lands executive board for comment but did not receive a reply.

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