14.1 The ALRC recognises the good work undertaken by police officers on a daily basis, often in difficult and dangerous circumstances. The ALRC also recognises that Commonwealth, state and territory police have undertaken significant reforms to culture, policy and practice in recent years to improve relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, examples of which are provided in this chapter.
14.2 Notwithstanding those measures, throughout this Inquiry, the ALRC heard that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to have negative attitudes towards police, with the view that the law is applied unfairly and that complaints about police practices are not taken seriously. It is clear that those perceptions have strong historical antecedents (see Chapter 2) and that there is evidence that the law is applied unequally—for example Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are less likely to be cautioned and more likely to be charged than non-Indigenous young people.
14.3 The perception of poor police practices needs to be addressed in order to improve relationships between police and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In the context of broader community relations, this is acknowledged by police.
14.4 Poor relations influence how often Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people interact with police and how they respond in interactions with police. Poor police relations can contribute to disproportionate arrest, police custody and incarceration rates in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It may also undermine police investigations.
14.5 The ALRC recommends that police practices and procedures—particularly the exercise of police discretion—are reviewed by governments so that the law is applied equally and without discrimination with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The ALRC also recommends that police complaints handling mechanisms be reviewed, particularly addressing the perception by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that their complaints are not taken seriously and that police misconduct is not addressed. Mechanisms for independent assessment or review of complaints should be considered.
14.6 The implementation of these two recommendations will require further consultation with Commonwealth, state and territory police and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to ensure that the balance is struck between efficient policing with strong internal management structures and the need for rigorous reviews to ensure that police practices and procedures are applied equally and investigation of complaints about police misconduct are, and are seen to be, thorough, transparent and fair.
14.7 The ALRC also recommends strengthening custody notification services (CNS) that provide 24-hour, 7-day a week telephone legal advice services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been detained in police custody. A CNS provides an opportunity to conduct welfare checks; and to provide culturally sensitive legal advice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The ALRC recommends that a requirement to notify an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal or equivalent service be provided for in statute and that it extend to detention in custody for any reason—including for protective reasons.
14.8 The ALRC recognises the importance of police culture and recommends a range of initiatives that could be implemented to improve police culture. In particular, successful initiatives need to be acknowledged and, where possible, scaled up.
See, eg, Victoria Police, Victoria Police Blue Paper: A Vision for Victoria Police in 2025 (2014) 10; Attorney-General’s Department (Cth), National Youth Policing Model (2010). All Australian police ministers agreed to the National Youth Policing Model in July 2010.
Victoria Police, above n 1, 10.