Improving police culture

Recommendation 14–4            In order to further enhance cultural change within police that will ensure police practices and procedures do not disproportionately contribute to the incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the following initiatives should be considered:

  • increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment within police;
  • providing specific cultural awareness training for police being deployed to an area with a significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population;
  • providing for lessons from successful cooperation between police and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be recorded and shared;
  • undertaking careful and timely succession planning for the replacement of key personnel with effective relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities;
  • improving public reporting on community engagement initiatives with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; and
  • entering into Reconciliation Action Plans.

14.94  Police culture was identified by RCIADIC as contributing to the over-policing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people back in 1991.[127] Police have made reforms to their practice and procedures over the last 25 years and these have irrevocably changed the culture of police.[128]

14.95  However, as has been highlighted above, more needs to be done to embed a cultural change within police that will ensure police practices and procedures do not contribute to the disproportionate incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Human Rights Law Centre submitted that there was a ‘need for fundamental change in the way police interact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities, including improved cultural awareness, with the aim of building trust, promoting safety and reducing crime.’[129]

14.96  Similarly Caxton Legal Centre explained that any ‘plan to reduce indigenous incarceration must [include] measurable actions designed to shift the behavioural norms of police officers to ensure discretion is exercised to divert Indigenous people from the criminal justice system.’[130] Such a plan needs ‘demonstrated “change agent” public leadership amongst the highest levels of Australia’s justice portfolios, law enforcement agencies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.’[131] Such a plan also needs to build on examples of success many of which have been provided to the ALRC throughout this Inquiry. This section highlights some of the examples of success and sets out a number of initiatives that could assist to progress cultural change within police.

Employment strategies

14.97  A key recommendation of the RCIADIC was the employment of more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander police officers, especially women.[132] Progress has been made in implementing this recommendation.[133] Nevertheless, the Productivity Commission documented that: ‘The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander police staff in 2015-16 was below the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the population aged 20–64 years for all jurisdictions except NSW and the ACT.’[134]

14.98  ALSWA suggested that aiming for population parity is not enough: ‘Bearing in mind the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system and as victims, even 3.2% Aboriginal employment is insufficient.’[135]

14.99  The rate of participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in sworn or unsworn roles and in operations or non-operational roles at a national is not readily available. As an indication, the NSW Police 2016-2017 Annual Report explains that there is some evidence that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees ‘tend to be more concentrated at lower salary bands than is the case for other staff.’[136]

14.100       In addition, national statistics on the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women employed by police is incomplete. A number of submissions highlighted the need for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policewomen in order to address family violence.[137] The Human Rights Law Centre also suggested that there ‘is also an urgent need for recruitment practices that promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s participation, both in policing and the training of police.’[138]

14.101       A key issue is how to improve recruitment practices to encourage greater numbers of applications from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Reconciliation Australia has said that an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment strategy provides a ‘blueprint for developing, implementing and maintaining Indigenous employment actions’.[139] The Closing the Gap Clearinghouse suggested that key elements for increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment should include:

  • Increasing the skill levels of Indigenous Australians via formal education and training.

  • Pre-employment assessment and customised training for individuals in order to get Indigenous job seekers employment-ready.

  • Non-standard recruitment strategies that give Indigenous people who would be screened out from conventional selection processes the opportunity to win jobs.

  • The provision of cross-cultural training by employers.

  • Multiple and complementary support mechanisms to improve the retention of Indigenous employees is crucial. These may include:

  • ongoing mentoring and support;

  • flexible work arrangements to allow Indigenous employees to meet their work, family and/or community obligations;

  • provision of family support;

  • dealing with racism in the workplace via initiatives such as the provision of cross-cultural training.[140]

14.102       The then NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione APM, suggested:

Increased Aboriginal employment within the NSW Police Force improves the participation of Aboriginal people across a range of policing issues and builds community relationships, cooperation and trust. Both our organisation and our Aboriginal communities benefit in a range of ways from a greater understanding by police of Aboriginal issues.[141]

14.103       Various police forces have undertaken training and employment initiatives as a means of bolstering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander police numbers. One such specialised training program was introduced by the NSW Police for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons wishing to join the police force. The Indigenous Police Recruitment Our Way Delivery program (developed by the NSW Police Force and TAFE NSW) aims to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in gaining skills, qualifications and confidence to successfully apply for a position within the NSW Police Force.[142]

14.104       Submissions highlighted the positive contribution of Aboriginal Community Police Officers (ACPOs) in the NT. ACPOs perform a range of duties including liaising with Aboriginal communities and contributing to effective Community Safety Action Plans.[143] The NSW/ACT ALS supplementary submission also noted that:

A number of participants applauded the role of Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers (ACLOs) in brokering … connections [between police and the community], and suggested that ACLOs need to be stationed at all police stations as well as out of regular hours (i.e. after hours and on weekends).[144]

14.105       Similarly, in the Torres Strait, police have appointed non-sworn Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as locally-based Torres Strait Island Police Support Officers (known as TSIPSOs) who support police and act as liaisons between police and the community.[145]

14.106       The Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia highlighted the Aboriginal Cadet Program which was ‘created to encourage more young indigenous people to become police officers’.[146] The two year program is ‘designed to prepare cadets to undertake the police recruit selection process.’[147] The 2016–17 WA Police Annual Report records that a total of 25 Aboriginal cadets had been recruited and

[t]he program is expected to increase the number and success of Aboriginal applicants for police officer positions within the agency. Additionally, it will build momentum towards achieving greater representation of Aboriginal people in the WA Police workforce; to better reflect the communities the agency works with as well as promoting a more diverse workforce mix.[148]

Cultural awareness training

14.107       In 1991, the RCIADIC recommended:

That police training courses be reviewed to ensure that a substantial component of training both for recruits and as in-service training relates to interaction between police and Aboriginal people. It is important that police training provide practical advice as to the conduct which is appropriate for such interactions. Furthermore, such training should incorporate information as to:

a.   The social and historical factors which have contributed to the disadvantaged position in society of many Aboriginal people;

b.   The social and historical factors which explain the nature of contemporary Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations in society today; and

c.   The history of Aboriginal police relations and the role of police as enforcement agents of previous policies of expropriation, protection, and assimilation.[149]

14.108       There was broad support throughout this Inquiry for greater training of police to improve cultural understanding as a basis for improving relationships between police and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities. For example the NSW/ACT ALS supplementary submission noted that:

Many participants stated that there is a lack of respect between the police and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their community. Some participants suggested that this lack of respect was primarily due to a general lack of understanding and awareness of cultural differences among the police.[150]

14.109       Submissions also noted that cultural awareness training is available to police and typically forms a compulsory part of training to become a police officer. For example the NT Government advised:

Cultural understanding and training feature in the NT Police recruit course curriculum along with mandatory cultural awareness training for all members. Local engagement and training with identified Traditional Owners or Elders also improves understanding and cross cultural awareness.[151]

Education regarding specific communities

14.110       During the Inquiry, the ALRC heard about an unpreparedness of police entering into often remote and sometimes challenging Aboriginal communities. Women’s Legal Services Australia submitted that: ‘Every police officer should be responsible for understanding the issues facing the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and for building a relationship of trust and accountability with them.’[152]

14.111       Similarly, the NSW/ACT ALS supplementary submission explained that:

Participants suggested two strategies to ensure police better understand and respond to Aboriginal communities – cultural awareness training and community engagement. Participants suggested that training should include information specific to the community in which police are working, such as language training and descriptions of different cultural groups. They also suggested that it is important for police to demonstrate to the community that this training is being or has been conducted, through promotion and advertising. [153]

14.112       A 2010 independent review of policing in remote Aboriginal communities in the NT suggested:

[I]nitiatives should include ensuring that members who are selected for remote postings are provided with appropriate and adequate hand over/takeover time on arrival at the community, introductions to community elders and leaders, cultural training by community members including understanding of significant ceremonies and ceremonial locations, mentoring by other staff with proven prior experience in the location, appropriate employment conditions, appropriate supervision and management support, and recognition of their completed, satisfactory service at remote locations in future postings.[154]

14.113       In 2011, the Victorian Office of Police Integrity found that, while Victoria Police had a strong commitment to addressing issues within Aboriginal communities, ‘more needs to be done to build a better understanding of Koori culture and local Koori issues to ensure police who are working with Koori communities can provide a culturally appropriate response to their needs’.[155] As a result the Office recommended that ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural training is desirable for all police but should be a prerequisite for all police prior to deployment to Policing Service Areas where there is a significant Koori population’.[156]

14.114       In its submission, Legal Aid WA emphasised the importance of cultural awareness training for police officers and staff, especially training that is delivered by Elders in the community and is specific to the local area.[157]

14.115       That view was supported by the Human Rights Law Centre:

Police in each state and territory should have guidance materials and undertake regular compulsory training, facilitated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people… Such training should be mandatory, ongoing and location specific and involve an assessment of learning.[158]

14.116       These submissions suggest that more and better targeted training for police is required to improve understand of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The ALSWA stressed the importance of reporting on training as an accountability measure:

Western Australia Police should be required to report on an annual basis the proportion of police officers who have undertaken cultural competency training; the nature, location and duration of that training; and how many officers have undertaken subsequent training.[159]

Cooperative initiatives

14.117       During this Inquiry, the ALRC was informed about, and observed, some very positive initiatives undertaken by, or involving, police and local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This suggests that cooperative community initiatives at a local level can result in significant improvements. There are many initiatives which illustrate the success of such programs. The following programs are a small sample to illustrate what can be achieved.

14.118       For example, a number of cooperative initiatives between police and the local community have been introduced in the Sydney suburb of Redfern. In 2009, Redfern Police, led by the Local Area Commander, Aboriginal community leaders in Redfern and Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation, instigated the ‘Clean Slate Without Prejudice’ program. In 2016, the ‘Never Going Back’ program was implemented in Redfern by Redfern Police, Aboriginal community leaders in Redfern and Tribal Warrior with the additional assistance of Long Bay Correctional Complex General Manager.

14.119       Tribal Warrior provided this description of those programs:

Clean Slate Without Prejudice program … consists of a boxing and fitness program at the National Indigenous Centre of Excellence gymnasium in Redfern. It also involves the active participation of community leaders and police officers from the Redfern Local Area Command. The Never Going Back program targets Aboriginal inmates who are nearing the completion of their custodial sentences. They are collected from Long Bay Correctional Centre three times a week at to attend boxing with Clean Slate Without Prejudice and receive training for employment.[160]

14.120       Both programs received Australian Crime and Violence Prevention awards in 2016, a recognition of good practice in the prevention or reduction of violence and other types of crime in Australia.[161]

14.121       A 2016 review of the programs by Professor Karl Roberts found the programs were making a positive contribution, noting the following effects:

  • reductions in reported crime in the area, particularly robbery and burglary;
  • increased community confidence in police; and
  • enhanced resilience of communities and ‘at risk’ groups.[162]

14.122       Professor Roberts suggested that the principles underlying the success of the programs were:

1.   The success of the Redfern programs is underpinned by a procedurally just approach towards the community. This is characterised by treating community members with respect, giving them a clear voice that is listened to by police in police-community interactions, giving community members explanations for police activity and decisions, and utilizing reliable and fair approaches towards community members. This underpins the development of trust.

2.   Enhancing trust between police and community has been central to the improvement in police-community relations and cooperation with police.

3.   Police familiarity with some of the mechanisms of social influence is likely to be useful in identifying leaders, community collaborators and designing programs that will have the greatest influence upon changing attitudes and behaviour within communities.[163]

14.123       The Marunguka Justice Reinvestment project in the New South Wales town of Bourke has involved collaboration between the local Aboriginal community and police to address community-identified problems. In consultation with Marunguka, in 2016 the Bourke Local Area Command implemented a program of visits to the homes of perpetrators of domestic violence following an incident of violence. Police were accompanied on the visits by a member of the community, so that the visits served a dual purpose—both supervisory and supportive.[164]

14.124       Another example from Bourke, NSW is the recently introduced ‘breach reduction strategy’, which relies on positive police involvement. The strategy includes making sure a warning is issued for technical breaches of bail, and that police contact the community (via a local community hub) when they believe that an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person may not comply and may be in need of support services.[165] PIAC supported expansion of this approach to communities with large populations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.[166]

14.125       In Cairns and on Thursday Island, the ALRC observed the effectiveness of the involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander court officers and the substantial, voluntary participation of community Elders in the criminal court process. The ALRC also noted the advantages derived from the long term appointment to the Torres Strait of an experienced and culturally aware magistrate along with a police inspector and prosecutor with a thorough understanding of the local Torres Strait Island communities.

Public reporting

14.126       During the Inquiry, a number of stakeholders noted that information about initiatives and programs, like those outlined above, is not always easy to find. For example, performance measures to be implemented by the NSW Police set out in their Aboriginal Strategic Direction 2012–2017 provide for internal reporting only, and do not require public reporting.[167]

14.127       In the Discussion Paper, the ALRC sought views of whether annual reporting may:

  • allow for members within a particular police force to be made aware of all programs operating within a state or territory;
  • encourage better engagement and understanding of programs within Aboriginal communities;
  • assist those undertaking research to easily identify police programs and strategies;
  • reveal where police are not engaging with a particular Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community that has high rates of offending behaviours and recidivism; and
  • encourage best practice.

14.128       The NSW Bar Association responded:

… all State, Territory and Federal police forces should be required to report to their relevant Minister on the character, quantity and coverage of programs and courses/seminars on Indigenous cultural and social issues as recommended by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in recommendations 225 and 228 of its final report.[168]

14.129       Submissions supported documenting police programs and public reporting.[169] For example, the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Services supported public reporting for the following reasons:

In order to collect data and ensure that the programs implemented are as effective as possible, it is essential that police document and evaluate these programs … Reporting is essential for transparency and accountability. There are number of benefits:

(a)     keeping communities and local organisations informed of police initiatives;

(b)    ensuring that communities and organisations understand what measures are being taken by police to address local problems; and

(c)     facilitating better collaboration between police and community organisations (such as the numerous ATSILS) on such programs.[170]

14.130       A key consideration is how public reporting should be implemented. The ALRC’s focus in the Discussion Paper was reporting in an annual report. However, annual reports are prepared in accordance with legislation. For example, the NSW Police Annual Report is prepared in accordance with the Annual Reports (Departments) Act 1985 and the Annual Reports (Departments) Regulation 2015 and is primarily intended to provide an account of operational expenditures to the government and parliament.[171] This ensures accountability for the public expenditure of funds. Given that state and territory police are annually spending billions of dollars for states with large populations and hundreds of millions of dollars for states with small populations,[172] there is usually little information on activity at the level of the local police station or local area command in an annual report.[173] Instead, information is highly aggregated and considers the implementation of broad strategic directions rather than cataloguing individual initiatives. Often a single individual initiative is highlighted in an annual report as an example of the type of work police are undertaking across community. For instance, the 2016–17 Victoria Police Annual Report explained: ‘More than 20 police joined over 70 Aboriginal participants from the Dungulay in Mileka program in the Massive Murray Paddle during November 2016. The event started in Yarrawonga and finished in Swan Hill over a course of 404 km.’[174]

14.131       Another challenge for reporting on initiatives through an annual report consistently across jurisdictions is that, in the NT and Tasmania, the police do not prepare standalone annual reports but contribute one part of a broader multi-agency report.[175]

14.132       The 2012–2013 Annual Report on ACT Policing provided an example of what is possible in terms of including information on programs and initiatives developed or implemented by police to build engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and support at risk youth.[176] The Annual Report includes a dedicated section to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with information required to be reported under the ACT Aboriginal Justice Agreement. The current (2016–17) Annual Report is much shorter and excludes this information.[177]

14.133       ALSWA noted that: ‘The Western Australia Police website refers to the Aboriginal and Community Diversity Unit but provides no details about what programs and initiatives are actually undertaken; instead it is a mere statement of intention.’[178]

14.134       The ALRC suggests that police websites provide an outline of their work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities. The websites should include details and evaluations of their community engagement strategies, protocols, procedures and programs designed to prevent or reduce offending behaviour and possible incarceration. The website should also contain year by year statistical data for the purpose of comparison and public assessment. Equally important is ensuring that police formally report regularly to the local community about police engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples including details of all programs and activities.

Succession Planning

14.135       During consultations for this Inquiry, succession planning was raised as an issue for the continuation of successful, innovative programs when a key police officer moves to another posting or retires.

14.136       The ALRC was made aware, for example, that the Tackling Violence program, which had been conducted by the NSW police for several years, ceased for a period upon the retirement of the police officer who had driven the program.[179]

14.137       The program was described in the NSW Police Force Aboriginal Strategic Direction 2012–2017 as using:

… men and boys’ love of rugby league to encourage them to be leaders and role models in the campaign against domestic violence in their communities. Tackling Violence is a mainstream program that is led by Aboriginal people to change attitudes about domestic violence. Participating teams work in partnership with Police Domestic Violence Region Coordinators, Domestic Violence Liaison Officers, Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers, Aboriginal Coordination Team and Local Area Commands.[180]

14.138       The ALRC acknowledges that succession planning for key roles can be challenging. For example, succession planning was a major feature of the Victorian Auditor-General’s 2006 report, Planning for a Capable Victoria Police Workforce.[181] In 2011 the Office of Police Integrity identified limited succession planning as an ongoing issue and recommended that a framework for succession planning be implemented.[182]

14.139       Nevertheless the continuation of successful and innovative community engagement programs relies on careful and timely succession planning. Efforts to more broadly embed such programs within the core work of local area commands should be pursued to ensure that such programs are not wholly reliant on individual police officers.

Reconciliation Action Plans

14.140       In 2016, 767 Australian organisations had developed a Reconciliation Action Plan. A Reconciliation Action Plan is a type of strategic plan which provides a set of actions that a particular organisation will undertake to achieve reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Plans are designed and implemented with input from Reconciliation Australia, the national expert body on reconciliation.[183]

14.141       Reconciliation Australia has outlined the contribution that Plans can make to reconciliation:

The Reconciliation Action Plan program contributes to achieving reconciliation by developing relationships, respect and opportunities with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. RAPs help workplaces to facilitate understanding, promote meaningful engagement, increase equality and develop sustainable employment and business opportunities.[184]

14.142       Reconciliation Action Plans contain a list of key objectives (or ‘actions’) and assign the task of delivering those objectives to individuals with time lines for delivery. Organisations that have adopted a Plan must report annually to Reconciliation Australia as to the achievement and outcome of their objectives.

14.143       The ALRC understands that only SA Police, Victoria Police and the AFP have Reconciliation Action Plans.

14.144       Kimberley Community Legal Services Inc proposed:

… the WA Police should be encouraged to enter RAPs. The process of developing and promoting RAPs can have educational, attitudinal and operational effects. On an organisational level, a formal recognition of the historic inequity in services provided to Aboriginal people has the potential to shift perception and make a concrete difference to responses and outcomes for Indigenous people.[185]

14.145       The 2017–2020 South Australian Police Plan lists 15 actions that include ‘Create opportunities to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and increase employment pathways and outcomes within our workplace’.

14.146       The 2016 RAP Impact Measurement Reporthighlights the success of the implementation of Reconciliation Action Plans across Australia:

  • 6,658 partnerships currently existing between RAP organisations and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • 19,413 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were working or studying in organisations with a current RAP
  • 51,797 employees completed online cultural learning, 46,446 employees completed face-to-face cultural awareness training and 3,043 employees completed cultural immersion experience.[186]

14.147       The National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Services submitted:

[Reconciliation Action Plans], among other great benefits, improve the perception of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, increase pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and increase the number of social interactions organisations have with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. A RAP will only improve police relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.[187]

14.148       The Law Council of Australia was also supportive:

The Law Council further submits that RAPs will have a significant impact on the services provided by the police force when engaging with Indigenous communities, promote cultural awareness and respect for Indigenous communities and Aboriginal people, and encourage and promote employment opportunities for Aboriginal people who may wish to join the police force.[188]