Last Friday, Northern Territory police announced it will be deploying the Territory Response Group (TRG) to patrol Darwin and Alice Springs over the Christmas period. The group is part of the Australian government’s National Counter Terrorism Task Force.
The operation will involve deploying specialised police units, wearing camouflaged gear, armed with military-grade assault weapons to patrol the city centres. The decision has been made due to community concerns over a spike in crime during the Christmas period.
A focus on youth
It became clear as ABC reporter Stephanie Zillman spoke with NT police commissioner Reece Kershaw that the main target of these anti-terrorist manoeuvres will be children. The commissioner outlined that youth offenders were responsible for around 50 percent of break-ins.
Mr Kershaw said that NT police have information from “around Alice Springs of kids jumping onto roofs of hotels and stealing people’s wallets.” And paramilitary police officers will be able to spot people “acting suspiciously” at night, using night vision goggles.
On the street with nowhere to go
The announcement came one week after the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory tabled its final report. It found that NT police are continuing to over-arrest young people, despite the laws stating that arrest should be used as a last resort.
The commissioners also stated that many of the children being arrested come from dysfunctional home environments. And they are out on the streets at night as they feel unsafe at home.
Commissioner Kershaw reiterated these sentiments stating that “some of the kids are out on the streets because of domestic violence.” He said the police force was committed to working with agencies and NGOs to provide a safe place for these kids to go.
However, it seems in the meantime, the police will be focusing on sending officers out in full tactical gear to track these children down.
As young as ten
Another key recommendation of the royal commission was to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years old. NT chief minister Michael Gunner has accepted the recommendation in principle. But, on Friday, the police commissioner was unaware if it had taken effect.
When asked what a TRG officer would do if they found a 10-year-old on a roof with a person’s wallet, the commissioner replied, “We uphold the law and maintain social order, so they will make a decision to what has to be done in that particular scenario.”
Indigenous youth on the frontline
In March this year, 84 percent of the adult prisoner population in the Northern Territory was made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
During the year 2014-15, of the 462 receptions into youth detention centres in the NT, 94 percent were Indigenous children. And of the 85 sentenced youth receptions, 94 percent were Indigenous.
So, it seems safe to say that the TRG will be targeting Indigenous youth out on the street, many of whom are too afraid to go home. And Australian authorities are now employing counter-terrorism tactics against First Nations peoples.
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.