“No consequences” and a lack of law enforcement is driving break-ins and other crimes in Fitzroy Crossing, local businesses say.
In recent days the Crossing Inn has been targeted twice by burglars. It has been reported that other buildings in the community have also been hit.
CEO of the Leedal business group, which operates the Inn and other enterprises, John Rodrigues, told National Indigenous Times that local police seem “afraid to do their job”.
“Last week a kid tried to hit the lady working in the Post Office, then he tried to have a go at the IGA manager, then he went around and jumped on the manager’s car and smashed the windscreen. The supermarket was closed down the post office was closed down,” he said.
“There are no consequences. Police are afraid to do their job, and we have two leaving now.
“I have been here 21 years and every day you wake up with sh*t like this. You have to motivate not only yourself but your staff as well, we have a couple leaving because they can’t deal with it.”
“We have teachers leaving town this year. They are not coming back. I have been here a long time but this time around it has been six to eight months that it is non-stop.”
Mr Rodrigues said the legal sale of alcohol in the town is carefully regulated, but with “the amount of alcohol coming into town [from other sources], they don’t have to get it from us”.
“We protect our license by sticking to the Act. We do not serve drunk people… [The Inn is] open at 12pm and closes around 4pm, and at the peak there are 70-80 people there. You go to Broome during the tourist season and see 1,000 people drunk, but if you have 100 Indigenous people here, because they are the ‘wrong’ colour and because they might be talking loudly, the police will say ‘oh, this is out of control’,” he said.
Sachin Kalinga, manager of the IGA, told National Indigenous Times “this has been the struggle in Fitzroy Crossing for the past 24 months”.
Mr Kalinga said that last week people “got into the staff accommodation at the caravan park” and smashed windows, leading to one IGA worker being hospitalised with an eye injury.
“We are trying to keep everything going for the people, they need to come here, some from far away, to get their groceries and their supplies,” he said.
“The kids come in here to steal, and if I go to talk to them, they try to punch me… About three months ago I got punched by a local adult. He was drunk, he punched me in the mouth – I was bleeding from the mouth, and the police did nothing. After one hour I saw him sleeping just outside the store.”
Kandula Herat, manager of the Crossing Inn and the Fitzroy River Lodge for the past five years, said there has been “a massive rise in break ins and violence” over that time.
“Five years ago, if kids would come in drunk and if you came up to them, they would run away, now they don’t run – they attack… Nothing is being done,” he said.
“Because there are no consequences for the little things, they go on to the next step. In the Lodge in November, we had 16 break-ins. They break in through the roof, they steal cars.”
Mr Herat said Lodge staff had been assaulted, two women were hit with chairs at the caravan park and went to hospital, and another two caravan park guests were stabbed with screwdrivers.
He alleged that the boy, believed to be 16, who was involved in the incident that led to the closure of the IGA last week had previously attacked patrons at the Crossing Inn.
“He jumped the fence, grabbed a pool cue and started to hit everyone at the Inn, he hit staff. We got him outside and he started to throw rocks. We called the police and they did nothing. We shut down the Inn,” he said.
“We are struggling to provide the staff with a safe environment in this town… Living here and dealing with these things every single day… there are no consequences. Not just for the kids, but also for the adults. We report it to the police and they are scared… It’s not enforced strongly enough, the law.”
“Yes, alcohol and drugs are a problem and enforcing the law is a problem. Last year 45 cars were stolen from the Lodge, guests’ cars… The police say to us ‘you need to look after your guests’… but is it only our job to do if people are stealing or threatening guests?”
Leedal group chairperson Patrick Green said guests at the caravan park and the Fitzroy River Lodge had reported being told by police to leave town because it “isn’t safe”.
A number of community organisations in Fitzroy Crossing are working in collaboration to engage local youth in positive activities and to support families in providing safe environments for their children.
In a radio interview with ABC Pilbara on Sunday, Fitzroy Crossing police station OIC Larry Miller said he was “fortunate enough to have a great team of guys and girls who put their heart and soul into policing the community and making the community safe”.
“[The community] recognise there are only a few people who go off the rails every now and then and we deal with them appropriately,” he said.
Asked about the average police response time in Fitzroy Crossing, a spokesperson for WA Police told National Indigenous Times “We are unable to provide a response to this question”.
The spokesperson also declined to directly respond to questions regarding the average number of crimes reported in the town per month.
On collaboration between WA Police and Aboriginal community organisations to reduce youth crime, the spokesperson said Fitzroy Crossing has “dedicated Youth Police Officers specifically tasked with supporting local youth through a variety of programs designed to keep them busy and engaged in healthy, positive activities”.
“Fitzroy Crossing has regular Youth at Risk meetings to discuss identified and potential youths facing various risk factors, including health, education and crime.”
The spokesperson said Fitzroy Crossing Police have “invested heavily into the impact of Youth Crime in our community and continue to investigate and hold people accountable for their actions”.
Mr Green said he believes “there is no urgency” from police to address the problems.
“They are not stressed,” he said.
“They get paid to wear a uniform. We can’t provide basic services if we can’t retain staff. The question is, where do we go from here? There is a danger kids will get locked into set ways.”
By Giovanni Torre