The importance of living in safe communities has been recognised by governments and organisations around the world. In 1989, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for a collaborative approach between government and non-government agencies as well as business groups in making communities safer. WHO also emphasised the need for the local community to be involved in solutions as this would empower the members of the community (Queensland Health 2011). WHO developed seven indicators for action, with the third indicator stating the need for ‘programs that target high-risk groups and environments, and programs that provide safety for vulnerable groups’ (WHO Collaborating Centre on Community Safety Promotion 2012).

In Australia, some Indigenous communities are among those most at risk, experiencing high levels of violence and social and psychological alienation. Ensuring the safety of individuals, particularly women and children, in such communities is a challenge.

All levels of government and many local communities across Australia have initiated community safety-related programs. For example, the Australian Government has developed a range of policies and programs to try to improve safety in Indigenous communities. In 2010–11, as part of its commitment to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) building block ‘Safe Communities’, the Australian Government committed more than $50 million for initiatives and services including family safety programs, child protection workers, safe places for women, children and men and support for Community Engagement Police Officers (Australian Government 2011:4–5).

One approach that is aimed at improving safety and that has been instigated by some Indigenous communities in Australia is the community patrol. A community patrol can also be referred to as a night patrol, youth or women’s patrol, bare-foot patrol or street patrol. When working well, community patrols fulfil the criteria of community involvement and ownership, empowerment and collaboration.

This resource sheet starts by setting the context, with some relevant statistics and a brief description of the types of safety programs and initiatives operating in Indigenous communities. The paper then summarises the available evidence on community patrols and some of the evidence on best practice. Evidence in a number of forms is presented, ranging from the level of Indigenous community support received to formal recognition by commissions, inquiries and awards; evidence on best practice; evidence from case studies, and effectiveness estimates in terms of outcomes including crime levels, both measured and perceived.