Not for the faint hearted
In the seven years since Senior Sergeant Corey Allen has been Officer in Charge of Brisbane, complaints against the police diminished by 60 per cent. Corey Allen wants to change the attitude of the Police from: the Police are there to do things to people to the Police are there to do things for people. A leader who is fair, strong, compassionate and honest can change a culture for the better.
Corey was awarded a Dorothy and Brian Wilson Churchill Fellowship in 2010 to improve ways of responding to youth who are homeless or sleeping rough in urban environments. He visited Police precincts and programs in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States and New Zealand.
It was an early morning in the spring of 2014 when I met Corey Allen at Brisbane’s busy Charlotte Street Police Station. As we walked down the street to the café where, according to Corey, ‘they make the best coffee in Brisbane’ Corey was greeted by so many people that it took a long time to get there. He knew the name of everyone who greeted him: shopkeepers, sellers of The Big Issue and people on their way to work, and everyone stopped for a friendly chat.
When we were finally sitting in a corner of the tiny café and had ordered, Corey told me that young people at a loss and with no resources who come to the city learn patterns of behaviour that can be difficult to change. They are prey to being recruited into gangs and, sleeping in a derelict building or wherever, are vulnerable to crimes like rape.
The greatest scope for improvement, according to Corey, is to help first response police to also be the first to make a positive difference in these young people’s lives. During Corey’s visit to New Zealand, the USA, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland ‘the extent of homelessness and risk to youth varied greatly, but the themes of connection, referral and the relevance of first response police emerged strongly in each jurisdiction’.
Corey was raised in Brisbane in a family plagued by alcoholism and domestic violence. After an early stint in the army, he became homeless, sleeping in parks and in an abandoned car before borrowing friends’ couches to sleep and gradually getting back on his feet.
When Corey returned from his Churchill Fellowship he reinforced to Queensland Police the main lesson he learned: investment of time in individual people is worthwhile and results in safer, healthier people and communities and cities.
New Zealand’s Manukau City, south of Auckland sizzles with cultural conflict and community breakdown. ‘The strain of unemployment,’ Corey writes in his report, ‘combined with alcohol abuse, drug abuse, large family units and real risk for young people combine to make a potential breeding ground for homeless young people and transition to gang life.’
‘We need the whole community on board’ is a mantra for the police here, so that collectively they can make a difference. Corey observed here and elsewhere that the method of communication and connection is as important as the message itself.
Young people can easily get into trouble. The process can start with homelessness and end in court or – with the help of police – it can be diverted to assistance and support.
In the United States, the Santa Monica Special Patrols Division collaborates with mental health workers. This proves very effective. Corey admired the Larkin Street Youth Services in San Francisco, which provides homeless and at risk youth with the help they need to rebuild their lives.
Corey knew the value of clean socks and the importance of looking after your feet from the Army. San Francisco’s Haight Street Youth Outreach members travel around giving hygiene kits and snack food to the homeless. Corey went with them, writing: ‘The offer of fresh socks is very popular and the peeling off of old socks from homeless kids’ feet is not for the faint-hearted.’
He concludes that ‘The smile on the face of someone who puts on fresh socks for perhaps the first time in months is worth the effort.’
Years on the road with no home to go to can do damage that is not easily healed and can engender habits that prevent someone from moving on to another stage in their life. Some police groups give condoms, food and toothbrushes to the homeless. Larkin Street provides counselling, housing, employment, personal development and youth outreach. The Larkin Street information material reflects their empowering corporate approach: ‘Effective youth services represent an incredible return for investment – the great resilience of youth enables them to bounce back faster and farther.’
In Brisbane, the Transport Alternatives Program partnership between City Police and Translink provides bus and rail vouchers for young people and others who are stranded in the city. Frontline police can issue vouchers after assessing they are the right candidate and are not just there for a free ride.
Senior Sergeant Corey Allen received a National Crime and Violence Prevention Award in 2010 and two National Crime and Violence Prevention Awards for the City Police Vulnerable Person Strategy and the Joined Up Street Team Patrols.
Corey Allen was a Queenslander finalist in the Local Hero category of Australian of the Year awards for 2010. He was awarded Alumnus of the Year in 2013 for Griffith University’s School of Arts, Education and Law. Corey Allen’s Youth Cultural Hot Spot Patrols won a National Meritorious Criminal Violence Prevention Award in 2014.
Corey and his wife have been foster parents to more than 14 young children and have three of their own.
(an excerpt from "Inspiring Australians" 2015)