By Steph McNicol
ROMSEY residents took the opportunity at a youth forum last week to criticise the inaction of police and Macedon Ranges Shire Council regarding the misbehaviour of young people in the town.
About 80 residents, inclduing a small number of youth, attended the meeting at Romsey Mechanics’ Institute on Wednesday night to discuss concerns for public safety after an alleged several years of torment by young people, particularly near the town’s skate park.
One woman at the meeting accused council of ‘sitting on their hands’ instead of appropriately handling the situation, which she said should mean improved communication with police.
“It’s not a youth problem, it’s a very small group of people choosing to engage in this behaviour – which is great, because it means it’s solvable,” she said.
“But I’ve had other teenagers tell me they don’t like walking past the skatepark, other people have stopped taking their children to the park – these teenagers even stop other kids from using the toilets.
“I’ve heard the elderly people’s village has people looking in their windows, the running club has had to move, and women are saying they’re not safe – that is a problem.
“What has actually happened? Why did this take so long? Why has council sat on their hands for this business? You’re responsible for the cleanliness and maintenance of the facilities, you’re also responsible for handing CCTV footage over to the police … police can only act on what they’ve had evidence of.”
Other concerns expressed by residents included the amount of rubbish left at the park, verbal attacks towards park users, and vandalism of public property.
People in attendance also questioned why no further action had been taken or offenders fined, despite evidence being available via CCTV footage over several years.
On the receiving end of the criticism was Romsey police Sergeant Eddy Barake, council local laws officer Allie Jalbert, manager for children and council services Emma Orchard, and Macedon Ranges Shire youth coordinator Vishal Tandon.
Sgt Barake said the session was not intended to be a ‘blame game’.
“It was apparent in the community no one knew what the police or the shire were doing about the perceived youth issue in Romsey,” he said.
“The way youth were interacting with other people at the park wasn’t good enough, and maybe the way they were using the park also wasn’t good enough.
“I’m not here for a pointing-fingers blame game, I am here to hopefully offer support to the youth in Romsey and Macedon Ranges … I’m here to say the police are looking at certain aspects of damage and anti-social behaviour, but I don’t think everything the police do should be about penalising young people.
“I don’t think it’s fair to blame Romsey kids. Yes they misbehave from time to time, as everyone in this room has, but if we talk to them and talk to their parents, the behaviour will change and we’ll get the right outcome from a community point of view.”
Sgt Barake said the community’s role was to report issues, and police’s role was to act.
“We’re hearing about it, but it’s not being reported. [People] are mentioning stuff they’ve heard third or fourth-hand and it’s not good enough. And for people to say we need to do more, they have to come talk to us,” he said.
Sgt Barake said from a criminal aspect, statistically, Romsey doesn’t have a problem.
“Over the past six months I’ve had 13 reports of criminal damage, not all of them are within the township of Romsey,” he said.
“I can say people have been spoken to about the damages, some are facing processing within the police station and potentially going to court for their behaviour.
“My ask of the community is report stuff, make my job hard and give me stuff to do.”
Several community members highlighted a lack of activities available to engage the youth in Romsey, and suggested council engage with young people to find out their interests and needs.
A teenager attending the forum said she felt ‘everything in Romsey [didn’t] appeal to [her] age group’.
“It’s all for younger kids and adults, and even the stuff happening in bigger towns, there are two buses to Gisborne during the day – we can’t hang out with our mates in other towns because there’s no way to get there,” she said.
Youth coordinator Mr Tandon said youth services were ‘kicking off at the minute’ and his team was ‘exploring options across the shire’, despite the major youth programs being based in Kyneton and Gisborne.
“Saying the services are in Kyneton and Woodend, for young people that can’t drive, that’s like saying to someone in a wheelchair, ‘oh you can come to this, you just have to go up those stairs’ – it’s unacceptable,” one resident said.
Council said they would be in contact with youth in the community to find out which activities would engage them – all youth were encouraged to participate and advocate for their interests.
Representatives from groups including Romsey Lancefield Lions Club, Romsey Men’s Shed, and a self-defence instructor said they could offer activities for young people.
For more information about youth consultation or progress being made in engaging youth, contact Macedon council at 5422 0333.