Community patrols are local services that provide transport and care for at-risk community members, especially young people or intoxicated adults. They are now common in many Indigenous communities, where they may be known as street patrols, night patrols, foot patrols, mobile assistance patrols or street beat programs (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2004). Cuneen (2001) notes that night patrols differ according to whether they operate in urban, rural or remote settings, and in kinds of relationships maintained with police. However, common to all of them, he suggests, is a high level of local Indigenous community ownership, and a reliance on volunteer staffing.

Mosey (1994) has identified several pre-requisites for a successful night patrol. These include adequate consultation at the outset, establishing clear relationships with police and clear duties for patrollers, and a strong management structure.

One of the first to be established was the Julalikari Night Patrol in Tennant Creek, Northern Territory. Set up in the mid-1980s, in 1992 it won the inaugural Australian Violence Prevention Award by the Australian Institute of Criminology (Cuneen, 2001; Curtis, 1993). Curtis, one of the founders of the Julalikari Night Patrol, has argued that night patrols are often misunderstood by non-Indigenous agencies and groups as having a law-enforcement function when in reality their primary focus is the care and wellbeing of members of the local Indigenous community, and the good order of local town camps (Curtis, 1993). It was partly for this reason that Julalikari Council insisted on their patrol being staffed on a voluntary basis. Relations with the local police were formalised through a jointly negotiated Agreement on Practices and Procedures that set out the respective roles of police and the patrol.

Cuneen (2001), reviewing crime prevention approaches in Indigenous communities, concluded that evaluations of night patrols had tended to be positive, and indicated that night patrols could achieve:

  • reductions in juvenile crime rates including for offences such as malicious damage, motor vehicle theft and street offences;
  • enhanced perceptions of safety;
  • reduction in harms associated with alcohol and other drug misuse;
  • encouragement of Aboriginal leadership, community self-management and selfdetermination; and
  • fostering of partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations.
Indermaur (1999) reports that night patrols in rural areas have led to reductions in arrests and detentions of Aboriginal people. Blanchard and Lui (2001), drawing on an evaluation of four night patrols established in NSW in 1998, found that the patrols reduced Aboriginal youths' involvement in anti-social behaviour and in crimes such as street offences, theft and malicious damage. They also helped to foster a greater sense of community safety, reduced harm associated with alcohol and other drug misuse, and encouraged community management in accordance with principles of self-determination. Night patrols were also seen as positive expressions of Aboriginal citizenship.
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At the same time, Blanchard and Lui were critical of what they saw as inadequate, piecemeal funding of night patrols:

The funding given to night patrols in NSW is barely enough for a single patrol. The resources needed for even one night patrol group to be sustained total approximately $70,000 a year, little more than the annual cost of one incarcerated youth. Basic costs to be covered include: bus hire and ongoing running costs of the vehicle; personal and property insurance for volunteers; equipment including radio communications, uniforms; and training including first aid courses, drivers licences and child protection workshops. A coordinator should also be funded if the community chooses to have one. In some communities, such as Walgett and Redfern, the NSW Police Service provides this support. In others, such as Kempsey, a shire worker coordinates patrol activities. This is an extremely valuable 'hidden' cost of patrol operations. However, most night patrol operations in NSW struggle with donations from business or short-term government contracts. This piecemeal approach to funding is undesirable. An alternative would be a pool of funds available to patrols to complement support acquired at the local level (Blanchard & Lui, 2001).
The NSW Crime Prevention Division of the Attorney General's Department has published an on-line practical guide to establishing and running Community Patrols, covering such aspects as steps in forming a local advisory committee, developing a plan, identifying funding sources, selecting and training staff, responsibilities and roles with respect to child protection, codes of conduct, operating procedures, occupational health and safety issues, maintaining a vehicle, and monitoring and evaluation (NSW Crime Prevention Division, 2003). The guide also includes templates for various data collection and reporting forms, some but not all of which are specific to NSW departmental requirements.

Blagg (2003) conducted a study of 63 night patrols in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Like other observers, he found that inadequacy and uncertainty of funding was a major problem for many patrols; however, he also identified another common problem: inadequate support from local communities. Some night patrols, Blagg found, have also found themselves subjected to conflicting expectations. Patrols are often viewed by non-Aboriginal agents as an extension of mainstream policing (the 'eyes and ears' of police) or even as a means of getting young people off the streets, whereas from the point of view of the patrols themselves their main function is not policing, but rather mobilising the capacities of Indigenous communities for caring, support and mediating conflict. 'Night patrollers', argues Blagg, 'are not police and the majority of patrollers do not want policing powers' (p. 74).