Getting in early
8 July 2010
With his curly brown hair and chubby cheeks, and wearing his school jacket, 12-year-old James looks the picture of innocence. But his favourite pastimes are anything but innocent.
"We tag our neighbours' fences," he says nonchalantly. "We used to chuck heaps of metal and rocks at the buses that pass by. But since this accident happened we stopped."
One of the rocks the children threw went through a bus window and hit a passenger. Asked why they do such things, James shrugs. "We're bored."
Girl Komene, coordinator of Otara's Pearl Baker Drive Neighbourhood Support watch group, says: "We were totally blown away by the things our children were doing."
James and friends have become rowdy, says Ms Komene, but they are not bad kids. They still listen to the adults around them. The thing to do now, she says, is to help them see the consequences of their misbehaviour.
"It was suggested that our group put a skit together and perform it to the most rowdy lot of children," says Ms Komene.
"The fun thing is that we're doing it. The adults are doing it. And so the children will be cracking up. It's our way of getting through to them."
The skit will be written, choreographed and played by the members of the neighbourhood support group. It will be performed on the last weekend of the school holidays at Latimer St reserve, where most of the children hang out. Otara's truancy officer will also be there to talk to the children. The gathering will end with a sausage sizzle to further foster neighbourhood support.
Ms Komene says the community has come a long way since the group's formation.
"Jo Iosefo and I started this group about four years ago because we saw a need for a positive outlet for the people in our community, to be able to go and express their views and concerns about the things that were happening in our area at the time, namely tagging, public drinking, burglaries, boy racers," she says.
Now, more than 50 families are involved in the group which is supported by Manukau City Council, Housing and the police.
Most of the issues have been addressed, says Ms Komene, and in the process the community has bonded. "Because most of the adults in this community are now openly speaking to one another, we can work together to let our neighbours know if each other's children are doing things that are silly and wrong."
James and his buddies did not get off lightly with their latest prank. "Girl made us paint over the tagging," he says, adding that he wouldn't do it again "because my mum tells Girl".
How to form your own neighbourhood watch group:
Step 1: Contacts
Contact your local police, council, or a Neighbourhood Support contact.
Step 2: Find members
The Neighbourhood Support coordinator will help determine a practical size for your group, organise the invitations to join the group, set up the first get-together, and identify the volunteer contact person and the group's deputy.
Step 3: Start-up meeting
The coordinator will be at the first meeting and explain how a Neighbourhood Support group works, distribute information packs and street signs, help gather details for a group contact list, and stay in touch through the contact person.
Step 4: Follow-up
The group's contact person will distribute the contact list to group members and keep it up to date, distribute newsletters, crime alerts and arrange future meetings if required, including an annual get-together.