A low-key and unfunded project in Dubbo has reduced the number of Aboriginal youths being charged with offences by 65 per cent in six months while helping them pursue education and work opportunities.
Western Region Acting Assistant Commissioner Peter McKenna, who leads Project Walwaay, reports of a "massive downturn in crime involving these kids" and even "prolific offenders" changing their ways.
"They went from a very antagonistic relationship with police to now running up to us as if we are part of their family," he said.
"And that's from myself right through to the constables on the street."
Along with fewer charges being laid between August and February, Friday nights in Dubbo were quieter because of the project.
Superintendent McKenna said a program at PCYC Dubbo drew between 70 and 120 children and youth "every Friday night".
"Friday night went from our number one night for crime to being our second quietest night," he said.
During school holidays especially, "negative interactions with police just dropped right away" while the COVID-19 lockdown only made project participants eager to resume activities.
"Really happy to say they didn't go too far off track whilst we closed down because we did keep that one-on-one interaction with them," Superintendent McKenna said.
A team of four Dubbo police officers and an Aboriginal community liaison officer work "hand in hand" with PCYC Dubbo , Apollo House, government and non-government organisations, Aboriginal elders and land councils, businesses and community groups in running the project.
About 25 children and youth, aged 12 to 17 but sometimes younger, are offered exercise, sport, cultural lessons, food and respect as part of a bid to build their self-confidence and resilience and give them a "brighter future".
"Peer-to-peer communication" about the project means police don't have to search for participants. "But we are always looking at who is at risk of falling into the criminal justice system," Superintendent McKenna said.
Project Walwaay is a first for NSW Police.
"We are the first police unit that's tried it and our commissioner has now got behind it," Superintendent McKenna said.
This week he accepted $2000 from Orana Law Society president Andrew Boog, the second offering from the region's solicitors to the project.
Donations pay for the likes of equipment, food and clothing.
Superintendent McKenna has expressed gratitude for community support of the project including the donation of a vehicle by Golden West Holden and volunteers who cook food for participants at PCYC Dubbo.
"There's no shortage of community support in Dubbo," he said.
But the project always welcomes "sponsorship".
"I can guarantee you this, any money we get goes to those kids, goes to helping them change their lives," Superintendent McKenna said.