On 13 October 2017, YACVic CEO Leo Fieldgrass wrote to the Chief Commissioner of Police Graham Ashton regarding YACVic's concerns about Victoria Police members' training in working with young people. We've reproduced this letter below.
Concern about Victoria Police members’ training to work with young people
Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) is the state’s peak body for young people aged 12-25 and the sector that supports them. We are writing to raise serious concern at video footage taken on Friday 6 October, showing a twelve year old boy being held on the ground by Victoria Police a Protective Services Officer outside Bendigo railway station.
We found the footage deeply disturbing. The child involved was very young and clearly distressed. While we agree that police work is dangerous and challenging, and officers must protect themselves and the community, we know there are better ways of dealing with challenging or risky behaviour by young people than resorting to harsh physical force. We also agree with the Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre’s assertion that this forceful arrest warrants a full and independent investigation.
We commend your focus on young people, via your youth summits. We encourage you to build upon this momentum in Victoria Police by improving the training of your members in dealing with children and young people, especially those affected by disability, trauma or mental illness.
Young people under the age of 18 who come into regular contact with the police are more likely than their peers to be dealing with a range of serious problems. For example, we know that nearly two-thirds of children in youth justice centres have been victims of trauma, abuse and neglect. Almost a third present with mental health problems, and one in ten have a registered disability.
Such factors impact on young people’s behaviour and how they may act when the police are called. It’s critical that police members have the skills to communicate effectively with children and young people who are vulnerable or at risk, and deescalate situations. No one wins if young people – and the wider community – come to see the police as untrustworthy and frightening. There is still more work to do in Victoria to improve relationships between young people and the police.
Indeed, at this week’s 2017 Blue Light Victoria and Victoria Police Youth Conference, police members and community representatives had a productive discussion about the critical importance of relationships in policing. Attendees agreed that more work was needed to build positive rapport and understanding between young people and police members in their local communities, as a means of preventing crime, deescalating volatile situations, and diverting young people from future offending.
A number of police members present pointed out that it was not enough to leave this responsibility to Youth Resource Officers alone; all police members needed to be supported in this space. We at YACVic were encouraged by this discussion and would welcome the opportunity to continue it with you.
YACVic has expertise in supporting organisations to engage well with young people. We would be pleased to discuss with you improvements to your members’ training and ideas for improving relationships between young people and police members.
Leo Fieldgrass, Chief Executive Officer, YACVic