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Vic: Experts urge police to improve relations with public

By Greg Roberts
19 Dec 2008 3:35 PM

MELBOURNE, Dec 19 AAP - After a week of anger and accusations, a sad funeral song perhaps summed up the death of 15-year-old Tyler Cassidy best.

The pop song "Forever Young" celebrates the innocence of youth and brought tears to a packed St John the Baptist Catholic church in Melbourne on Thursday.

The song's film-clip features young skate-boarders and it was at a skate park in Northcote where Tyler was shot and killed by three of four police officers he confronted with knives on the night of December 11.

Those who loved Tyler got to say goodbye, but the anger and resentment toward police for killing a 15-year-old boy remains, and it has crime experts and youth workers worried.

They have urged the community to let a coronial inquiry into the death run its course before judging the police, but they fear the anger could explode if not handled properly.

Unsurprisingly, the Northcote skate park has become a shrine to Tyler, but "Tyler RIP" graffiti has also been spotted in neighbouring suburbs several kilometres from the skate park.

Many messages at the shrine and on the Internet site Myspace vow revenge against the police or "pigs" such as one from Harlyy (Harlyy), who called himself a trooper with the Southern Cross Soldiers, the nationalist group Tyler was linked to:

"i f...en love you

dont let them pigs get the better of you

u will get throu this

and we will get them f...ers back

memba revenge is sweet"

It's no surprise Tyler's friends are angry, but high-profile youth worker Les Twentyman and RMIT University criminal justice associate professor Julian Bondy are among those who fear Tyler will become a hero and his death a cause celebre for disillusioned youth.

"I think we are on the cusp and it can go two ways so the response will be critical," Mr Twentyman told AAP.

The wrong response by police would be to get tough on youths in a "heavy-handed" way, he said.

"This stuff goes a long way back to the 1980s when police were zealous, unemployment was high and the police discriminated against kids in certain areas," Mr Twentyman said.

"The young people were treated like scumbags by the police and that created people like Benji (underworld killer Andrew Veniamin).

"Benji attacked a police bus in Western Sunshine that was for youths when he was a kid and threw a rock through it, there was a lot of tension."

People are divided on whether or not the police were in the wrong, but there is no doubting shooting dead a 15-year-old looks bad.

Many parents have also told AAP they are angry at the police as were many of the young mourners at Tyler's funeral, such as old schoolmate Josh McGavisk.

"We are sad and angry, we should not be here today, they shouldn't have done it," Josh said.

Police assistant commissioner Tim Cartwright said the officers acted in accordance with their training and fired when they felt Tyler was threatening their lives at the Northcote park.

Mr Cartwright said a warning shot was fired before three of four officers involved in the standoff opened fire.

Mr Twentyman said Victoria had managed to avoid riots involving police and youth deaths, such as the current violence in Greece and recent confrontations in Sydney at Macquarie Fields and Redfern, but should not be complacent.

"The reason we have not had a Macquarie Fields is because of (chief commissioner) Christine Nixon's pro-active work, but potentially Tyler Cassidy could lead to that if the police were heavy-handed," he said.

Riots are still breaking out across Greece after police shot dead 15-year-old boy Andreas Grigoropoulos in Athens less than a fortnight ago.

In Sydney in February, 2004, riots broke out in Redfern after the death of Thomas 'TJ' Hickey, a 17-year-old indigenous youth who thought police were chasing him, lost control of his bike and impaled himself on a metal fence.

Twelve months later, violence erupted in outer suburban Macquarie Fields, sparked by a high speed police chase which resulted in the death of passengers, Dylan Raywood, 17, and Matthew Robertson, 19.

Mr Twentyman also mentioned the 1991 Newcastle riots in the UK after the deaths of two local youths who crashed a stolen car being chased by police.

Mr Twentyman said pro-active policing was the solution.

"Amidst all the jockeying to be the new chief commissioner, red-neck types are saying the police have gone soft and we should go back to "old-style" policing," he said.

"That is wrong and would be a catastrophic disaster.

"We would be sitting on a time-bomb because there are so many kids disconnected from society, second-third generation unemployed, relying on welfare, getting into gangs."

Australia was more complex now with many refugees wary of police, but the force did the right thing when they recently controversially dropped charges against four African teenagers allegedly involved in a riot in Flemington, he said.

Dr Bondy said it was a worry that Tyler was being promoted as a "soldier who fought the good fight" by his friends and the police should use community policing to repair ties with youths.

"Certainly we are entering the busy season for police work and this will make their jobs harder with those who have already rushed to judgement and found the police wanting," he told AAP.

"The Hummer vehicles and body armour send out a bad image, if you put all these things together it looks like an occupying force.

"There has been a real shift take place throughout the world away from community policing since 9/11 in 2001 but they should think of themselves as a service through turning up to see burglary victims or just being visible in foot patrols on busy streets."

AAP gr/pmu/it/mo