In 2008, a new police sergeant arrived in a disadvantaged suburb of a major Australian city. He had been groomed for the line command with a stint in a neighbouring district, but it didn’t prepare him for what he found in his new patch.
Each Thursday night, hundreds of youths from different local ethnic groups, as well as agitators from more distant suburbs, would congregate in the local shopping centre and engage in violent brawls.
Residents were frightened for their lives and abandoned the shopping centre, while shopkeepers faced each Thursday night with dread. Security guards employed by shopping centre management did what they’d been trained to do: shut down the trouble-makers and move them on, often meeting violence with violence, abuse with abuse.
One or two senior officers, long-timers, counselled acceptance. “It’s been like this for years,” they told the sergeant.
But the sergeant felt otherwise. He set out to have things be different, and soon the slow and steady work of building affiliation began.
First up were the security guards from the shopping centre. The sergeant went to them and made a request. He requested they speak respectfully to the youths when having them leave or move along. If a youth didn’t do what was required, he told the guards they should take whatever actions they were entitled to take. Thus, he made a request and reaffirmed their discretion in one stroke.
This was the beginning of the transformation the sergeant wrought.
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