Australian Institute of Criminology

Skip to content

Executive summary

This paper summarises the results of a project funded by the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department’s (AGD). The project aimed to clarify the contribution of the community night patrol program in the Northern Territory (NT) to improving the community safety of Indigenous communities, and in this context, recommend an improved framework for monitoring performance and reporting.

Community night patrols (also known as street patrols, night patrols, foot or barefoot patrols, mobile assistance programs and street beats) have a long history in the NT. Emerging in Tennant Creek in the late 1980s as a community initiative in the face of ‘under-policing’ and later in Yuendumu to stem the adverse contact Indigenous people were having with the criminal justice system, there are 80 patrols today funded by the AGD in the NT. With a budget of $69million over three years (2009-2010 to 2011-2012), the AGD’s community night patrol program is the largest community night patrol program in Australia.

Patrols are not defacto police, rather they are

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

They have a long and continuing history of being regarded by the communities they serve as essential, and the support of key local persons and groups in the community, such as elders, women and cultural leaders, is critical to their success. However, there is limited up-to-date literature, information, data and evaluations about the operation and impact of community night patrols.

This project involved four steps:

  • a review of the literature on community night patrols
  • consultation with key stakeholders 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 project highlighted four issues in the operating environments of patrols that needed to be considered in order to develop the performance and reporting framework:

  • separating the roles of community night patrols and roles of police;
  • responding to challenging service environments where not all essential complementary services in all communities are present and/or effective;
  • recruiting appropriate local staff, and retaining and training them; and
  • working in diverse situations in regard to governance and community cohesion.

In this context, Program Logics were developed, which are analytical tools that describe the ideal inter-relations between inputs, processes and outputs necessary for a program to produce the ideal outcome(s). Program Logics capture the theory of how change will be achieved, in this case the delivery of a safer community. The Program Logics for the program as a whole (see Figure 1) and the individual community night patrols (see Figure 2) are intuitively straightforward - patrols engage in crime prevention work and through this they drive change, achieve the ‘immediate outcomes’ and contribute to longer term outcomes for community safety. However their operating environments present challenges which require Program Logics that actively respond to such challenges, for example patrols need to work strategically as well as with individual clients so that gaps in local essential services are constructively identified and met.

The higher level Program Logic (see Figure 1) considers the community night patrol program as a whole. At the centre of the Program Logic for the whole program is the community-level logic (see Figure 2). This higher level Program Logic shows that a community night patrol is ideally positioned to focus on outcomes in primary crime prevention (before offending occurs) and secondary crime prevention (targeting persons at risk of being victimised or of offending, or targeting risky incidents), and also to support but not conduct the tertiary crime prevention work undertaken by police. In addition, patrols undertake crime prevention actions such as leading or actively participating in community safety planning and follow-up.

At the community-level (Figure 2), a patrol delivering these core crime prevention services well can be expected to achieve a range of ‘immediate outcomes’ and over time contribute to a range of ‘intermediate outcomes, for example a ‘reduction in repeat assistance to at risk persons and risky incidents’ through genuine decreased demand for such repeat services. In turn, these ‘immediate’ and ‘intermediate outcomes’ contribute to the long-term outcome of the community feeling and being safer.

Importantly, the Program Logics clarify that the core business of patrols is (non-crisis) crime prevention not defacto policing, that an unrecognised immediate outcome of patrols is capturing and sharing local knowledge about community safety issues and solutions and that a focus should be on working with other services to reduce the need over time for repeat assistance by patrols to persons at risk and risky incidents.

Finally, the project considered good practice in performance measurement and reporting, in the interests of improving the patrols where necessary and sound accountability for the funds they receive from the Australian Government. The unique challenges and considerations of measuring the performance of Indigenous justice outcomes need to be taken into account when developing a performance framework for Indigenous-specific, community-focused programs such as the community night patrol program. This includes ensuring that the value of a relatively small program, where successes are accumulative (rather than dramatic) and most visible at a local level, is not overlooked in high-level performance monitoring. Furthermore, performance measurement should focus on factors that the program can directly influence i.e. ‘immediate outcomes’ and should be practical for a small program where each patrol has limited administrative resources.

These considerations, in combination with the two Program Logics discussed above were used to develop a suite of Key Performance Areas (see Appendix A) and a Generic Reporting Guide (see Appendix B) for the program and individual patrols. The Key Performance Areas and Generic Reporting Guide relate to all dimensions of the Program Logics, from inputs to outcomes, consistent with good practice in performance measurement. The indicators for the ‘immediate outcome’-those outcomes that the program and patrols can most directly influence- include ‘community knowledge of community safety progress, issues and solutions captured and appropriately shared by patrols’ and ‘referral processes to and from other local services in place and working well’. The Reporting Guide incorporates a combination of quantitative and qualitative information and data consistent with good practice, for example qualitative reporting information includes descriptions of responses by patrols to issues, in order to promote and track approaches to managing their challenging operational environments.

The Paper recommends that data be based on counting rules and data definitions that are comparable between patrols and that are consistent with core standards and definitions such as those maintained by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Also the Paper recommends that the information and data collected be analysed in a timely manner, and shared with all community night patrols, as well as within government. This approach has two benefits -first, whole-of-government analysis and policy development regarding community safety will be continuously informed by community experiences, and secondly, community night patrols will receive information that will assist them to improve their performance and provision of services.

The Paper emphasises that achieving the ‘intermediate outcome’ of ‘reduced repeat assistance to persons at risk and risky incidents’ due to a genuine decrease in demand for such repeat services is an important aspect of driving change. It promotes practices that support this outcome, for example well-supported referrals, long-term follow up for repeat clients and pro-active work to prevent risky incidents reoccurring. Reducing the need for repeat assistance to even one client and/or in respect of one type of risky incident can free up significant resources for the patrol and other community services. If the root causes of behaviour linked to violent offending and victimisation are dealt with, this can make a significant lasting contribution to community safety.