Wagga's Aboriginal leaders fear that the relationship between police and Indigenous youth is continuing to deteriorate, with no signs of improvement any time soon.
Their comments come in the aftermath of the 2021 Close the Gap report, which found that Australia was not on track to meet its target of reducing the adult Indigenous incarceration rate by 15 per cent by 2031.
If anything the gap has only widened, with incarceration rates rising to over 1900 per 100,000 people, up from around 1420 per 100,000 in 2008.
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A Close the Gap community engagement forum was held in Wagga on Friday, however Aunty Gail Manderson said she remained sceptical about whether it would lead to any practical action.
She said the campaign had "failed miserably" to achieve the targets it set out upon launching in 2008, and that her Mount Austin neighbourhood was yet to see any tangible improvement.
"The aim of closing the gap is to close the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-Indigenous Australians," Aunty Gail said.
"They want to do that within a generation and they've failed miserably."
Aunty Gail said she thought over-policing was a growing problem in her neighbourhood, saying that more resources needed to go into supporting young Aboriginals rather than policing them.
One Koori man currently facing jail time is Jarrod Moore, who said he was arrested and charged last week for intimidating a police officer.
"I personally don't think I should be in here for five months. I could've kept my mouth shut a bit more, but how are we supposed to vent when we don't get opportunities?" Mr Moore said.
"When you try your hardest and you get hit in the guts again, when you try to do the right thing and do your best but it's still not good enough, you think to yourself: 'what's the use of trying to change?'"
Mr Moore said he had been in and out of the prison system and had only just found a job to support his nine-year-old daughter, who he would now not be able to look after for five months.
His mother, Pam Moore, said she frequently saw children being stopped and searched in Mount Austin by police who patrol the area.
Ms Moore said she thought the constant police presence made the youth crime worse, not better, since it made some children even more defiant towards authority.
"If you give the kids respect they will give it back to you, but if you treat them like a dog they're going to bite," she said.
"This is exactly what's happening; the kids are fighting back, and because they're fighting back they're getting jailed or juvied or getting a record which stuffs up their future if they're over a certain age."
Ms Moore said she wanted to see more resources going towards support figures like Aunty Gail and less punitive policing practices in her neighbourhood.
"This is part of closing the gap. They are not giving our kids a fair go, they're not," she said.
Wagga police Acting Inspector Nigel Turney said they dispatched more officers to areas with the highest crime rates, which included suburbs such as Mount Austin, Tolland, and Ashmont.
"People are going to say it's over-policing, but the people who are victims of the crimes are the ones who want the presence, they're the ones who want to see police out and about in their areas trying to reduce those issues," Inspector Turney said.
"The policing aspect is simple: if that's where the majority of crimes are occurring, and that's what our intelligence suggests, then police are going to be tasked to those areas. That's just efficient policing.
"Certain groups may not be happy with it, but the only way that's going to be resolved is if crime in those areas reduce, resulting in police being tasked to other areas."
Inspector Turney said they had several Indigenous officers on the force, as well as many Aboriginal community engagement programs and activities.
Inspector Turney said they had made many efforts to engage with troubled youths, but it was ultimately up to them to make the right choices.
"Some of the crime in those areas is committed by young people who are bored, and we'd like to see them involved in other activities, but they have to be willing to participate rather than going around breaking into homes or stealing cars or stealing property from homes. It's really as simple as that," he said.
Wagga police have recently announced they will be flying the Aboriginal flag outside their station in a show of goodwill to the community.
Wagga's Close the Gap facilitator was Robert Skeen, who came down from Sydney to gather input for the NSW Implementation Plan for the coming 12 months.
Mr Skeen is also the chief executive officer of the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Centre, which aims to improve the health of Indigenous Australians.
He said that there was still a long road ahead, and that they were working towards improving the relationship between Indigenous communities and the police.
"It's difficult being a policeman as well and finding a common ground with the community, but partnerships are really important to improving that relationship," Mr Skeen said.
"Having a strong relationship with the elders will go a long way to reducing crime, having a better relationship with the youth and police. Intergenerational change will come from having a better relationships with children."
NSW Aboriginal Land Council chair Anne Dennis, who helped organise the Close the Gap meetings around the state, said there was a long road ahead to achieve their goals.
Ms Dennis said Indigenous people were overrepresented in prisons by a factor of nine, and that much more work needed to be done to tamp down on that figure.
"The nine meetings we've had over the last two weeks really is about implementing the priority of reform so we can actually meet the targets," Ms Dennis said.
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