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An alarming and steady surge in serious and violent crime by young people in New South Wales is the key driver of a new youth violence strategy presented to the ANZPAA conference in Melbourne last month.

If it sounds familiar, it’s because our Australian police colleagues are dealing with the same issues we are experiencing on this side of the ditch – a noticeable drop in the age of offenders and traditional youth crimes such as shoplifting and vandalism, but a 47 per cent increase in sexual offences, a 22 per cent rise in violent (knife) crimes and a 14 per cent rise in robberies.

Over the past five years, total legal actions for youth (10-17 years) have dropped 11 per cent but for 10 to 14 year olds, they are up 11 per cent and there’s been a 16 per cent increase in the number of victims in the 10 to 14-year age group.

The state’s police commissioner Karen Webb said they were dealing with younger and younger people.

“We used to think dealing with 17 year olds was young and we had to get mum and dad out of bed at night. Now we are seeing 10 and 11 year olds and in other jurisdictions, including New Zealand, there are 7 and 8-year-old kids out committing crime.”

A culprit in common – TikTok – was described by the state’s Assistant Commissioner Leanne McCusker as a negative influence on young people’s decision-making ability and a unique challenge for police, as is an over-representation of Indigenous youth in the criminal justice system. Familiar?

As New Zealand Police know and have addressed with myriad youth-focused prevention programmes, youth violence is complex and requires a holistic, all-of-community approach.

“Youth violence also often involves young victims, so our approach needs to be flexible, adaptable and agile, and it needs to be scalable – up or down, according to the level of intervention required,” Leanne said.

The research behind the New South Wales strategy notes that young people who are exposed to family violence, have one or both parents in custody, are disengaged with school and/or have mental health and/or learning difficulties are at risk of committing a crime. Once they do, without intervention they are likely to commit more crimes.

New South Wales is also investing in youth programmes including an anti-violence education and a warrior haka programme to be rolled out in all its schools by the end of this month, as well as music and sporting industry partnerships.

Kiwi sports great Sonny Bill Williams cameos as a role model with the message: “I wasn’t a bad person, I just made bad decisions.”

“If young people can hear that from a person they look up to, it gives the message that you are not a bad person just because you made a mistake. It empowers them to right that mistake,” Leanne said.

The NSW strategy framework is based on a two-tier system

Tier one

  • Focuses on young people at risk of violent offending and victimisation
  • Includes universal and targeted programmes
  • Aims to reduce contact with the criminal justice system
  • Considers risk factors and vulnerabilities
  • Focuses on prevention and diversion
  • Includes referrals to support services

Tier two

  • Focused on targeting violent offences
  • Includes initiatives that are flexible, agile and adaptable
  • Involves an individual assessment
  • Builds tailored plans to inspire positive change
  • Provides a scalable approach
  • Targets prolific young offenders
  • Increased community safety