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Community night patrols (also known as street patrols, night patrols, foot or barefoot patrols, mobile assistance programs and street beats; AIC 2004; Blagg & Valuri 2004a, 2004b) are

non-coercive intervention strategies to prevent anti-social and destructive behaviours through the promotion of culturally appropriate processes around conflict resolution in conjunction with contemporary law enforcement measures (AGD 2010: 5).

Community night patrols assist people at risk of either causing or becoming victims of harm, in order to break the cycle of violence and crime in Indigenous communities (FaHCSIA 2010). Examples of actions undertaken by community night patrols include:

  • relocating a person to a ‘safe’ environment (eg a sobering-up shelter, hospital or women’s refuge);
  • defusing potentially violent situations;
  • intervening in situations of family violence;
  • diverting intoxicated people away from the criminal justice system;
  • providing information about and referral to support services (eg police, youth services, alcohol and other drug services);
  • assisting people at risk;
  • promoting community night patrols and increasing public awareness of them; and
  • supporting community safety planning and its implementation.

Community night patrols emerged in the late 1980s in the NT community of Tennant Creek (Blagg 2003; Langton 1992). In Tennant Creek, community night patrols were established by the Indigenous community ‘because there was nothing else’ (Blagg 2003: 15). Although the problem of over-policing in Indigenous communities has been widely documented, the converse problem—under-policing—can also have negative impacts on Indigenous communities (Blagg & Valuri 2004b; NTERRB 2008; Tangentyere Council Executive 2008). Similarly, in Yuendumu in the 1980s and 1990s, community night patrols were developed by Indigenous women to ‘help protect the community in the absence of effective intervention from mainstream justice systems’ (Lui & Blanchard 2001: 18). In other communities, patrols emerged to address over-policing—‘to divert Indigenous people from unnecessary contact with the criminal justice system’ (Blagg 2003: 7).

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) (1991) also provided an impetus for community night patrols (Blagg & Valuri 2004b), as it recommended that Indigenous people be kept out of the criminal justice system to the extent possible, particularly for minor matters.

The Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) funds community Night Patrol Services across 80 communities in the Northern Territory, including in 72 of the 73 communities that have been targeted for a range of initiatives under the Northern Territory Emergency Response. This is the largest community night patrols program in Australia.

As Indigenous communities often have poor views of and/or relations with the police (Blagg 2003; Tangentyere Community Patrollers & Elek 2007), community night patrols can play an important role in maintaining order in Indigenous communities, particularly where they draw on cultural authority, knowledge and identity by, for example, using local Indigenous languages (Langton 1992; Tangentyere Community Patrollers & Elek 2007; Walker & Forrester 2002). The support of Elders and other respected persons, especially women, in Indigenous communities is an important historical feature of community night patrols—‘it has been recognised that endorsement by community leaders is important to “authorise” the work of patrols’ (Tangentyere Community Patrollers & Elek 2007: 25).

What is known about the operation and impacts of community night patrols?

Assessment of the literature confirms that community patrols have historically been highly valued by Indigenous communities, although there is limited up-to-date information and data about the operation and impact of community night patrols. The absence of such information can lead to misconceptions by external stakeholders, such as funding bodies, policymakers and researchers about the program’s core business, its value to achieving community safety objectives and its level of accountability. That is, the true value of such programs may not be fully realised if measures are not put in place to enable a true assessment of their effectiveness and impact. This project was designed to clarify the program’s core role and value, and in this context, enhance the framework of accountability for this unique, community-focused program. Given this aim, the method for this project largely involved analysis of literature, data and best practices relevant to patrols and the whole-of-government environment it operates within, together with a limited number of highly targeted stakeholder consultations.

The most up-to-date information on activities of community night patrols is reported by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA 2011). At December 2010, there were community night patrols in 80 NT communities. Between July and December 2010, a large number of persons (n=49,984) were transported and/or referred to a service by these community night patrols. Of these, approximately 359 persons were transported to a recognised ‘safe house’ by a community night patrol service.

In 2006, the Tangentyere Council Patrollers and Elek (2007) reported on their services in the Alice Springs area as follows:

  • there were 9,396 encounters, resulting in 5,474 people being assisted;
  • violence or a disturbance was the main reason in nine percent of cases;
  • only one percent of people were taken to police;
  • seven percent of call-outs occurred because the police needed community night patrols to assist them; and
  • about one-third of cases resulted from local residents calling on community night patrols.

Although comprehensive quality data and published evaluations are scant, the literature has identified that local evaluations of community night patrols have been positive (eg Blagg & Valuri 2004b). The Gordon Inquiry (into the response by government agencies into complaints of family violence and child abuse in Aboriginal communities in Western Australia) found that Aboriginal people viewed community night patrols as ‘essential to the operation of their communities’ (cited in Blagg & Valuri 2004b: 2). The recent evaluation of the NT emergency response confirmed that communities and service providers support night patrols (NTER Evaluation Report 2011)

Improvements to data collection and reporting on community night patrols are important means of assessing the effectiveness of community night patrols as they continue to operate in the Northern Territory.

Developing a performance and reporting framework for community night patrols in the Northern Territory

This report provides an overview of research undertaken by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) for the AGD. The purpose of the research was to develop a performance and reporting framework for community night patrols in the Northern Territory. The findings of this research may also be useful for community night patrols in other jurisdictions.

The project involved four steps:

  • a review of the literature on community night patrols;
  • consultation with key stakeholders, including a discussion forum and visits to patrols to conduct observations;
  • the development of Program Logic models; and
  • the development of a revised performance framework and reporting guide.

The findings from this research are outlined below.

Key issues from the literature review

The literature on community night patrols is limited and to some extent dated, yet it highlighted a number of key issues for consideration, together with issues that emerged from a discussion forum held with key stakeholders, conducted as part of this research.

Roles of community night patrols and roles of police

Increased understanding about the respective roles of community night patrols and the roles of the police has been identified as an important area (Allen Consulting Group 2010). Participants at the forum held as part of this research project suggested that in some instances, government agencies or community may view ‘Indigenous problems’ as the role of community night patrols and problems among non-Indigenous residents as the role of police. Incidents in communities may therefore be divided up along cultural, indeed racial, lines rather than more appropriately by incident type (ie whether an incident requires the involvement of the police).

It is emphasised in the literature that the primary purpose of community night patrols is to prevent crimes; that is, to intervene early in situations to minimise the need for police involvement (Blagg 2003; Higgins & Associates 1997). Although it is difficult to define boundaries around community night patrol activities and police activities, and there is some overlap and cross-referrals between the two groups (Tangentyere Council Patrollers & Elek 2007), the role of community night patrols is principally focused on ‘pre-crime’ scenarios. This theme in the literature confirms that the main purpose of patrols is primary and secondary crime prevention rather than crisis intervention or de facto policing.

Lack of essential complementary services in communities to support patrols

The success of community night patrols is dependent on obtaining appropriate support from governments (Higgins cited in Blagg 2003; Ryan cited in Blagg 2003) to ensure that these patrols are resourced adequately to do their job and importantly, that community night patrols and other support services/agencies work well together (Ryan cited in Blagg 2003).

When community night patrols first emerged, Indigenous communities relied heavily (sometimes exclusively) on their own resources. Langton (1992) describes community night patrols in which patrollers were not paid for their work, uniforms were bought out of patrollers’ pension incomes and ‘one bloke was using his car to run around, using his own money for petrol’ (Langton et al. cited in Langton 1992: 7). For some years, community night patrol staff in the Northern Territory have been paid employees and not volunteers, providing a more solid foundation for patrols.

However, a serious challenge remains—participants at the forum noted that in some communities, a lack of adequate complementary services limits the capacity of community night patrols. Community night patrols rely heavily on networks of services, such as crisis alcohol and drug services, to perform their duties effectively and their absence may even prevent a patrol being established.

Where Indigenous communities are not in a position to support the successful implementation of a NPS [night patrol service] in their community, this may be due, in part, to a lack of infrastructure or capacity to support the night patrol (AGD 2008: 21).

Staff recruitment, retention and training support

Recruiting, training, supporting and retaining appropriate staff for community night patrols has been raised as an important issue for ongoing and effective operation (FaHCSIA 2010a, 2010b). Working as a night patroller may result in unique pressures being faced by staff; for example, issues with kin may arise for patrollers. Patrollers’ success in part relies on their standing within a community to deal with people who may be intoxicated and/or operating outside of socially sanctioned behaviours, and who may be related or known to them. Safety issues can also arise for the patrollers. The role is a difficult one and as a consequence, retaining staff can be challenging. The Allen Consulting Group (2010: 66) confirmed that staffing of patrols was a problem in their review of policing in remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

[N]ight patrols suffer from the limitation of available and suitable personnel and longer term commitment to that role....Recruitment of night patrol staff appears to be an issue for many communities. Some also request more and better training to undertake their role.

Stability of governance and community cohesion

One of the key indicators from the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report (SCRGSP 2009) is effective governance; good governance by communities and governments is a vital foundation for achieving many outcomes in Indigenous communities. Conversely, poor community governance, low social cohesion and multiple uncoordinated government accountability arrangements can increase demand and undermine efficiency in services such as patrols.

According to the report, ‘governance’ is defined as the ‘members of a group or community organis[ing] themselves to make decisions that affect them as a group’ (SCRGSP 2009: 11.1) and good governance involves sound governing institutions, leadership, self-determination, capacity building, cultural appropriateness and resources. Locally-based services like patrols can contribute to building the governance capacity of the community, service providers and governments by, for example, training and employing local staff, having input into community safety planning and assisting other services to overcome barriers that restrict Indigenous people’s access to them. In this way, they can facilitate better governance while also assisting individuals. The role of community night patrols in improving governance of communities and governments (including government-funded service delivery) should be better reflected in performance reporting and is often overlooked or undervalued. The revised performance and reporting framework presented later in this report addresses this by including opportunities to report such activity.

Program Logic for community night patrols in the Northern Territory

As Tilley (2004) argues, criminal justice programs are only as good as the theories on which they are based. These theories are, however, often unstated and not well-evidenced. The importance of clarifying program theories became clear in the 1970s, as program evaluators began to find that ‘programs could have vague or unspecified goals, which made measurement of outcomes well-nigh impossible’ (Hurworth 2008: 42).

A number of approaches to clarifying the underlying theories of social programs have emerged since this time, including ‘evaluability assessment’ (eg Basile et al. 2005) and ‘program theory’ (Hurworth 2008). The term ‘Program Logic’ has been used synonymously with, or replaced, the term ‘program theory’ since the 1990s (Hurworth 2008).

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) (1996: 22) defines Program Logic as

a diagrammatic representation of the links between inputs, processes, outputs and outcomes. It provides a linear hierarchy with the top level in the ‘map’ being the intended outcomes of the program.

Davidson (cited in ARTD Consultants 2009) explains Program Logic as a description of the processes necessary for a program to produce the ideal outcome(s) (see Table 1 for definitions of key Program Logic terms). By presenting Program Logic in a visual format on one page (eg as a flow chart), a clear, succinct picture should emerge as to how a program is expected to work (ARTD Consultants 2009).

Program Logics are analytical tools rather than an end in and of themselves (ARTD Consultants 2009). Devising a Program Logic can help determine:

  • how programs are supposed to work;
  • what assumptions underpin them;
  • whether the elements of the program (ie inputs, activities, strategies and models) are logical and appropriate;
  • whether the program is able to be evaluated;
  • what the key questions for evaluation are; and
  • what information and data regarding performance and activity should be collected (ARTD Consultants 2009).

Two Program Logics have been developed from this research project. The first (see Figure 1) reflects the program as a whole (ie for all 80 communities in the AGD program). The second (see Figure 2) reflects an individual community night patrol in any NT community.

Community night patrols program

The Program Logic for the program as a whole (see Figure 1) shows that the program involves:

  • delivering core services (ie non-crisis crime prevention services) to targeted communities;
  • targeting communities with needs in regard to improving community safety and with sufficient capacity to make a patrol feasible;
  • adopting an appropriate model for the targeted communities, given their local contexts; and
  • providing program resources and infrastructure to succeed.

If these ‘inputs’ and ‘activities’ are in place, the logic is that a community night patrol can be established and can function effectively, and so contribute to making the community feel and be safer (the program’s main outcome).

The mechanism for the program achieving its outcomes is the community night patrols operating as change agents in the 80 communities. Therefore, the Program Logic for the community night patrol program (see Figure 1) contains at its centre the community-level program logic (see Figure 2)—the community night patrols that operate in the 80 communities are embedded in Figure 1 and the logic for any one of these is expanded in detail in Figure 2.

Table 1: Program Logic terminology
Key termDefinition
Input Resources (eg staff, materials or premises) utilised to provide the service (Audit Commission 2000)
Process What is done to produce outputs (ANAO 1996)
Output Goods and/or services that are produced to meet outcomes (Homel, Willis & Gray 2006)
Outcome Outcomes are the long-term impacts that outputs have on communities (Homel, Willis & Gray 2006)
Performance information Evidence about a program’s performance that is collected and used systematically (ANAO 1996)
Program logic A diagrammatic representation of the links between a program’s inputs, processes, outputs and outcomes (ANAO 1996)
Program Logic for the Aboriginal community night patrols in the Northern Territory program

Community night patrols at the community level

The Program Logic at the community level (see Figure 2) represents how a community night patrol is intended to work. The Program Logic shows that ideally, community night patrols at the community level are positioned to focus on outcomes in primary crime prevention (before offending occurs) and secondary crime prevention (targeting persons at risk of being victimised or offending); such non-crisis crime prevention is ideally the core service of a community night patrol. At the community level, they would support but not conduct police services’ tertiary crime intervention work (targeting persons offending or being victimised), since police have unique powers and systems to perform such duties.

Program Logic begins with having the resources, support and governance (inputs) in place for a community night patrol service to deliver its core services—non-crisis crime prevention actions and assistance. Given the right inputs, the following ‘immediate outcomes’ can be expected:

  • community respect for the community night patrol;
  • the community night patrol captures and reports on local knowledge and solutions for community safety. The unique nature of community night patrols allows them to contribute to improved and timelier ‘local intelligence’ about community safety issues—both current and emerging—and ideas for solutions; and
  • effective working relations between the community night patrol and essential complementary safety and support services, especially police, child protection services and crisis services including safe houses and sobering-up shelters.

Additional ‘immediate outcomes’ across the range of the patrols’ core services can be expected to be achieved as follows:

  • outcomes from crime prevention actions (eg inputting into community planning); and
  • assistance with risky incidents, times, locations or vulnerable individuals to prevent crime or harm, particularly involving repeat clients. Repeat clients or risky incidents are actively and effectively managed, mostly through supported actions with other services, to deal with root causes. The resources that are freed up by effectively assisting and following up repeat clients or repetitive risky incidents will allow more and earlier prevention work in the community.

The ‘immediate outcomes’ mentioned above in turn can be expected to deliver two ‘intermediate outcomes’ over time:

  • the community takes greater responsibility for safety and has greater input into solutions; and
  • the key safety and support services in the community improve.

Ultimately, the longer term outcome that community night patrols contribute to (but are not directly able to deliver alone) is a safer community. Further, targeted incidents and individuals—particularly those that are repeatedly dealt with by the community night patrols (eg intoxicated individuals, recurring events and times that involve abuse of alcohol)—have fewer adverse outcomes or need for assistance from community night patrols.

Program Logic shows community night patrols taking action to identify and try to solve service gaps (ie in policing, alcohol and drug crisis services, violence protection including child protection services and mental health crisis services). It also shows patrols clarifying roles between police and safe houses if relevant; for example, through memoranda of understanding and patrols having mechanisms in place to avoid being drawn into providing unnecessary transportation.

Program Logic for an individual community night patrol in the Northern Territory

Last updated
3 November 2017