Victoria Police are again in the spotlight after reports that they are continuing the practice of racially profiling certain people as a trial that was supposed to look into this issue looks to have been derailed.
A 2013 case which resulted in an out of court settlement alleged that the Victorian police had been investigating crime and questioning and stopping people not on the basis of any alleged wrongdoing but purely on the basis of their skin colour. Maki Issa, one of the plaintiffs in the previous Federal Court case insists that the discriminatory practice has continued and recalls what Melbourne was like in 2006:
“You couldn’t walk down the streets without being stopped, searched, asked a lot of questions, having your phone taken away from you because you didn’t have a receipt for it or a CD player you had in your pocket … It hasn’t stopped and you’d be very naive to think it would have stopped because what we have to understand is this is bigger than us”.
This statement is consistent with an admission by former Chief Commissioner of Victorian Police Ken Lay who stated in December 2013 that the practice of racial profiling had occurred:
“Whilst I’m confident Victoria Police as an organisation does not racially profile, I’m equally confident that some of our members have actually engaged in that process”.
In order to fix this worrying situation the Victorian Police announced in 2013 that, amongst a range of new measures, they would record or provide people with a ‘receipt’ after they have searched, stopped or initiated contact with them.
The receipts were to be used as the basis for a six month trial examining the different types of people they stopped and the reasons for stopping them. However, in what many regard as a complete contradiction to the settlement, the Victorian Police receipt trial did not record the ethnicity of people that they stopped.
Therefore, on the issue of racial profiling the whole exercise was largely irrelevant.
NSW Racial Profiling
Unfortunately, this urgent issue is not confined to Victoria either with NSW Police very recently criticised for “entrenched racism”.
Former NSW Aboriginal Land Council Representative Des Jones says that his own personal dealings with police indicated, to him, that entrenched racism exists:
“There’s entrenched racism in the police force … there’s a culture in the police force that they all look after one another. There’s now a culture where they’ll suppress and oppress young people… They’ll also try and get the young people to admit to things that they haven’t done. I’ve witnessed this myself”.
On the back of this latest criticism the NSW police have indicated a willingness to work with aboriginal leaders to investigate and if necessary reduce any form of racial discrimination or profiling.
As with any government or large organisation it is almost inevitable that some form of discrimination occurs. Accountable governments that put their hand up and accept the need for change will move the NSW and Victorian police closer to the entire removal of racism.