Community barbecue offers opportunity to chat with youth and police

By Liz Mellino

Snags and chicken wraps were on the menu at Victoria Park Lake yesterday, with the All Cultures Police Youth Committee hosting a free community barbecue.

The committee received funding through the Victorian Department of Justice to host a number of community barbecues around Shepparton, as a way to encourage positive conversation within the community.

The committee, made up of multicultural youth aged between 14 and 24, aims to create interaction between police, youth and the wider community.

Shepparton police multicultural liaison officer Matthew Walker said the idea for the committee came a couple of years ago.

“The community said there wasn't enough knowledge about what police do and that we probably were not visible enough,” he said.

“Through that we went, 'What can we do to make it better?' and we thought a youth group would be good because youth drives a lot of the community and if you can get through to them they will pass it on to their parents and their peers.”

Sen Const Walker said the committee members now act as leaders among their community, sharing any information passed on to them by the police.

Members meet with police regularly to have a chat and discuss whatever is on their minds.

“The youth group basically drive any information we need into the community and, vice versa, they’re sharing stuff with us,” Sen Const Walker said.

Samia Haroun, a member of the local Sudanese community, has been part of the youth committee since the start of last year.

While she was originally hesitant to talk to police, she said the group had changed her perceptions and provided her with an outlet to meet new people.

“At the start I was a bit scared of police but now I’m more comfortable with them I’m able to talk to them, they're really friendly as well,” she said.

With a number of other barbecues planned in Shepparton, Sen Const Walker encouraged community members to come and have a chat if they see them around town.

“Some of the kids might not have had any experience with police in their life and this might have been the first time they do, so it’s fantastic that it’s a positive experience for them,” he said.

“Police are here to help; it's no longer a police force, we are a community service.”