A Football West program has been hailed by police as helping reduce juvenile offending at one of Perth’s busiest shopping centres.
The four-week Street/Freestyle Football initiative, which is run alongside WA Police, began at Morley Galleria last month and finishes this Thursday night.
The aim has been to engage youngsters who gather at the centre during late-night shopping with Street Football, which is a 2v2 or 3v3 format based on skill and technique and accompanied by loud music and healthy food. A similar program began at Westfield Carousel on November 29.
Morley Police Sergeant Martin Hopkins said the response had been both terrific and rewarding.
“Thursday night is historically when we have problems with large groups of kids gathering. Between 6.30 and 9.30 on a Thursday we see increases in offending, disorder and generally the public being uneasy with the groups of kids being around,” he said.
“So this is the opportunity for us to engage them with something that is positive. The Street Football attracts them to partake in a healthy lifestyle but also has an impact on crime figures, from a police point of view.”
Football West Development Officer Elmi Ali is a driving force behind Street Football
Sgt Hopkins approached WA Police’s Community Engagement Division about hosting Street Football at Morley after learning about the programs in Katanning and Gosnells.
“This is all done in partnership with the Galleria, who love it, they want it every week. They absolutely fall over themselves thinking it’s great.
“They give up a load of parking spaces for us and that was a bit of a challenge because retailers leading into Christmas were worried about turnover, which is perfectly valid.
“But we’ve done three out of the four weeks and we’ve seen a decrease in calls to police and reported crimes. We’re looking forward to the end of the four weeks where we can examine the full impact.”
Sgt Hopkins added: “On average there are about 25-30 kids each week and a real cross section.
“We had one young boy who was playing. He’d been given a juvenile caution for stealing earlier in the day, so he’s exactly the sort of bloke we are trying to entice out of the shopping centre to come and engage with us. I said to him, ‘if you want to keep coming you’ve got to stay out of trouble’.
“More often than not it’s a group of kids bored, hanging around the food court who have not been given the opportunity to do something more constructive. That’s the gap we’re trying to fill.”
While Sgt Hopkins happily has a kickabout with the youngsters, it’s one of his fellow officers who is the star player.
Which is no surprise really, considering Matt Horsley won the old NSL competition with both Woolongong Wolves and Perth Glory and represented the Socceroos.
“The feedback is positive and it’s great that the youngsters see a police officer in a friendlier, relaxed atmosphere than someone grabbing them by the collar,” he said. “And it’s not just about crime prevention, we can also give positive messages such as stay in school, don’t smoke, eat healthily or about mental health support.”
Sports outlet Rebel have also got involved and the youngster who stands out each week wins a $25 voucher for the store.
Sgt Hopkins said: “I call them the Young Leaders Award. The $25 voucher is not necessarily the best player but perhaps their attitude was good, they’ve been helpful or treated it in a positive manner.”
The Street/Freestyle Football Program, which is also backed by Healthway, is managed by Football West Development Officers Gordon Duus and Elmi Ali.