Unique methods bearing fruit
The officer in charge of a highly acclaimed Pilbara police team has spoken out about what he believes to be the secret to success, amid an across-the-board drop in crime statistics.
South Hedland police officer-in-charge Sen. Sgt Jeremy Marklew has been in Hedland for just two years, but the town has seen crime slashed and community trust in police reach an all-time high during this period thanks to his approach to policing.
For October, South Hedland’s family violence statistics dropped 39 per cent compared with the same month last year.
Burglary offences have also fallen by 55.6 per cent this year when compared with the five-year average.
Over the same period, stolen motor vehicle offences have dropped 55.2 per cent, stealing offences are down 40.4 per cent and damage offences have reduced by 27.3 per cent.
Sen. Sgt Marklew said he attributed the success story to the dedicated work of his team in implementing a different style of policing than the town was used to.
“I think central to my approach to policing in Hedland was the idea that most problems are caused by the trauma of premature death — that is, any event which resulted in someone dying sooner than they perhaps should have,” he said.
“Whether it be due to mental health issues, alcohol-fuelled violence or dangerous crimes that could lead to death like a stolen car driving into a tree, premature death in small communities has a ripple effect that can often lead to more issues.
“So my plan was to engage the community, to show we aren’t here just to respond to crime and lock people up, but to actively play a part in helping people who have physical or mental health issues.”
After experiencing life as an officer across WA, including in the Kimberley and the Gascoyne region, Sen. Sgt Marklew said there were a few events and investigations which had helped shape his approach to policing.
“Prior to my arrival, the tragic suicides of young persons deeply traumatised many, and having worked closely with Kimberley Mental Health, I brought those learnings to Hedland,” he said.
“The coroner’s inquest into the deaths of 13 children and young persons in the Kimberley report was significant in solidifying my beliefs in community-based policing.”
The inquest, by State Coroner Ros Fogliani, handed down 42 recommendations in relation to the deaths.
It looked at the people’s upbringing, trauma experienced in life, support services in their communities, access to education, and health outcomes in producing the recommendations.
The report found almost all cases had pre-existing vulnerabilities from the effects of inter-generational trauma, most cases suffered from ill health — often directly related to substandard living conditions, and all experienced dysfunctional home environments, with alcohol abuse and family violence present in their homes.
The report also found all the children had poor school attendance, academic outcomes and behavioural problems.
Also highlighted through the report was the fact most cases had a sibling or close relative who had taken their own life, and despite this, had had little or no involvement with mental health services.
As a result of the report, Sen. Sgt Marklew tasked himself with seeing change in outcomes for community members in his area through strategies to deal with alcohol-fuelled and family violence issues, school attendance, and diversionary options for young people.
“While improving clinical services and responses remained essential throughout the recommendations, a focus on the vital role of culture in building resilience and hope was also highlighted,” he said.
“We realised that there needed to be a more co-ordinated approach to keeping youth in town engaged, and set about doing so.
“We’ve had a strong partnership with the Hedland Aboriginal Strong Leaders, the Town and all the wraparound services to ensure we are doing everything we can to aid these young people.”
Over the two years Sen. Sgt Marklew has been in Hedland, a number of programs focused on youth engagement have been developed with community groups.
The successful school attendance strategy Mirnukaru (meaning “learning”) sees children with attendance issues picked up every morning by a bus, given a hearty breakfast and taken to school.
It has seen a significant improvement in school attendance and a 30 per cent drop in juvenile crime.
The attendance strategy has been so successful that in 2021 it will begin in other districts.
Under Sen. Sgt Marklew’s leadership, a WA-first Youth Diversion Program has started.
The program aims to engage teenagers and young adults by offering various programs, including a TAFE automotive certificate, which target youth disenfranchised from mainstream education to gain skills towards employment opportunities.
The South Hedland Police Station is a finalist in the Police Excellence Awards’ team category, which Sen. Sgt Marklew attributes to the commitment of his team to help the community.
“Whilst this level of co-ordinating community wellbeing is unusual for police, the fact we are leading the response has drawn significant praise and support from service and community leaders,” he said.
“As community openness continues to increase, in 2020 there has been a reduction in self-harm incidents compared to 2019, but most importantly, there has been a reduction in suicide.
“At the end of the day, being a police officer can be a taxing job.
“On any given day you can rock up to some pretty traumatising things. Our officers would much rather be out there preventing these things from happening than responding to them after the fact.”
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