On one of the toughest beats in town, a young cop is about to lay down his gun
and take on a new style of policing.
245 Albert St
PO Box 418
On one of the toughest beats in town, a cop lays down his gun and takes up a new style of policing. Community Cop follows Constable Andrew “AJ” Allen working with the young African refugee community in the Flemington high-rise estate in inner city Melbourne.
The estate is home to 4000 people, many of them from war-torn Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia. It is a diverse, volatile and complex neighbourhood with a history of high crime, tough policing, and escalating clashes between the police and young people who often see police as the enemy.
With limited resources but assistance from key community members including youth worker Ahmed Ahmed and youth ‘troublemaker’ turned advocate Ahmed Dini, AJ sets out to earn the trust of this suspicious community. It is a tough job, when some even within his own ranks regard this community policing as a waste of time and money.
Watch interviews with Ahmed Dini, Ahmed Ahmed and others featured in Community Cop plus many more stories by viewing the wonderful interactive SBS website “Africa to Australia: All Stories.”
Director Helen Gaynor on the background of the estate and community policing
The Flemington Public Housing Estate in inner city Melbourne was built in the 1960s, part of what the police call “the triangle”, with similar estates built in neighbouring North Melbourne and Kensington. The estates have been first port of call for successive waves of immigrants to Australia – Italians, Greeks, Turks, Vietnamese and since the early 1990s, people from the Horn of Africa. Most of the Africans have fled terrible wars in their own countries. Many of their children have grown up in Australia and the estate is their home.
Flemington is also well known as the centre of the Spring Racing Carnival, one of the biggest events in Melbourne. Thousands of people flock to the Flemington Race Course in late spring, dressed to the nines and in a mood to party. The highlight of the carnival is the world renowned Melbourne Cup. The main street, Race Course Road is filled with race goers in their frocks and hats and suits mingling with African women in traditional dress and long flowing robes.
The estate is also home to Anglo Australians, many on welfare. It attracts its fare share of drug dealers and ex-crooks. For the local police at Flemington Police Station, it is a heady mix.
In late 2005 a spate of robberies occurred during the Spring Racing carnival. ‘Soft targets’ such as people who were drunk and older people were targeted by groups described by the victims as dark-skinned youths. Mobile phones were stolen and sometimes weapons like small knives were produced to persuade the hand over. The police cracked down on the local teenagers on the estate–searches were frequent and the public and the kids grew increasingly hostile to what they saw as constant harassment and racial profiling. They retaliated by throwing rocks and things went from bad to worse. There were fears that a riot would take place and so a public meeting was held at which the community voiced their anger at policing methods to senior members of the force, and members of the state government.
The police responded by appointing a community liaison officer–the first in the state to be appointed to a specific police station. Leading Senior Constable Glenn Birt established the role and gradually the tension calmed and the community and police began to understand each other better. After two years, and a period of relative calm, tensions between police and estate youths were again on the rise. Leading Senior Constable Birt decided to move on and this is where our story begins.