Police Training and Selection

873. Lack of Understanding. It is often suggested that one way of improving relations between Aborigines and the police is by improving the understanding by each group of the other. On the Aboriginal side there is often little comprehension of the role, function and methods of the police. Most Police, on the other hand, have little or no understanding of the culture, language, and world-view of Aborigines. During the Commission’s Public Hearings many witnesses both in urban and remote areas mentioned problems that resulted from this lack of understanding and argued that better training and education for police officers could improve the situation.[1433]

874. Existing Police Training. The extent of instruction in Aboriginal culture during police training varies greatly in the State and Territory police forces. In the Northern Territory, specific instruction to enable a police officer to work among Aborigines is the largest single component of the 20 week induction course.[1434] In addition, a police officer appointed to an Aboriginal town or settlement is counselled by Divisional Officers before taking up duties and, if necessary, arrangements are made for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs field officer for the area to discuss matters with him. In South Australia cadet training has recently been revised. Cadets now attend a one day workshop at the Aboriginal Studies and Teacher Education Centre at the South Australian College of Advanced Education which is aimed at

A. Providing students with positive and critical knowledge of the cross-cultural world shared by Aborigines and other Australians;

B. Assisting students to develop positive attitudes and correct manners within this environment.[1435]

The South Australian Police Force has also encouraged officers to undertake additional studies. Officers have attended courses in Ethno-Science at the Torrens College of Advanced Education and a number have done short courses in Pitjantjatjara language studies.[1436] A suggestion for improving police training was made by Superintendent Owen Bevan, Officer in Charge of the Community Affairs and Information Service Section of the South Australian Police Force. He advocated the training of police specialists who would play a specific role in Aboriginal policing:

In States where there are significant populations of Aborigines living in tribal or semi-tribal circumstances such police specialists could perhaps be given the opportunity to actually live among these people for a time … Specialist officers might live and work for a nominated period in [the Pitjantjatjara] lands in an ‘attachment’ type role with a set of broad objectives …[1437]

These objectives might include an understanding of Aboriginal culture and ways of life, assisting police to gain the confidence of Aborigines and to develop possible solutions to policing problems. In Queensland there is a one day seminar during initial training in which each new group of trainees is required to participate. The seminars involve the short, formal presentation of material followed by general discussion between the police and other participants. The seminars are open to any Aboriginal person who wishes to participate. The Aboriginal community provides the speakers and it is left up to individual speakers as to what they say. The view of the Queensland police is that the seminars have proved far more successful than other means that have been tried (e.g. formal lectures on Aboriginal cultures).[1438] It was said that it had also opened up communication between police and the Aboriginal community. The Queensland police training also includes a course in human relations and there is additional input on Aboriginal issues during in-service training. In New South Wales, there is a special consultant (Community Liaison Officer) in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (Cth) who visits all levels of Police In-Service training to lecture on Aboriginal cultural issues. Officers in the Aboriginal Liaison Unit and other Aboriginal guest lecturers also attend to give lectures.[1439] In Victoria and Tasmania there is little direct instruction on Aboriginal culture and ways of life during police training. In Victoria in 1980, four lectures were devoted to ethnic groups during the 20 weeks of basic training.[1440]

875. Previous Recommendations for Improving Police Training. The lack of police training in Aboriginal affairs was the subject of specific comment in the Report of the Laverton Royal Commission which investigated a number of incidents between Aborigines and the police in Western Australia in 1974 and 1975. It recommended:

  • that a unit to be established within the police department capable of giving expert and intensive instruction in Aboriginal society and culture and the economic and social problems Aborigines commonly face;

  • that a small committee or council be established consisting of say two police officers nominated by the Commissioner and a like number each of Aborigines and outside experts to advise the Commissioner on all aspects of the training programme;

  • that suitably qualified Aborigines should play a part in any training programmes that may be introduced in the police department.[1441]

A small specialist Aboriginal Liaison Unit headed by a Chief Inspector was set up as a result of these recommendations. Officers in the Unit provide instruction at the Police Academy on Aboriginal culture and some of the social problems that Aborigines experience. Lectures by Aboriginal people are given to both recruit and in-service courses.[1442] In 1977 a Committee of Inquiry into the Enforcement of the Criminal Law in Queensland (the Lucas Report) recommended:

A special course of instruction should be given to police to educate them concerning the problems of persons under disability [this includes Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders].[1443]

This Commission has previously recommended improvements in the training of police officers who have dealings with Aborigines.

The training of police officers in the Northern Territory should include some attention to culture, language and habits of thought of Aboriginals.[1444]

876. Police Selection. As well as attention being given to police training it has also been suggested that there is a need for greater scrutiny in police selection procedures.[1445] One proposal has been that the occupational status of members of the police force should be raised by offering more attractive salaries, which compare favourably with public servants or other skilled tradesmen, and introducing promotional criteria which included educational standards, initiative and efficiency, rather than seniority.[1446] There should also be higher educational qualifications for entry, personality as well as intelligence tests included in selection procedures and compulsory courses in human relations for all police trainees. In the last decade there have been improvements of this kind, especially in educational requirements for police entry. But, in addition to greater attention being given to selection, it has been suggested that officers chosen to work in areas with a large Aboriginal population should demonstrate some knowledge and understanding of Aborigines. The Groote Eylandt Aboriginal Task Force recommended:

All Police Officers who are to be appointed to Groote Eylandt must have at least two years in the field experience with the Northern Territory Police Force and have a demonstrated ability to communicate effectively with Aboriginals and possess a knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal culture.[1447]

877. Conclusions: Training and Selection. Improved selection procedures and a raising of the status of police officers may indeed help Aboriginal/police relations, and police/community relations generally. But in the shorter term benefits will flow from careful selection of officers who are to be posted to areas with a large Aboriginal population, particularly in remoter areas. There should also be efforts to increase the number of women police officers serving in those areas. Police training in all State and Territory police forces should be widened. There should be included specific instruction on Aboriginal laws, culture, institutions and ways of life, to better equip police officers to understand Aboriginal viewpoints thus improving law enforcement. This does not mean giving a small number of formal lectures as part of an induction course to recruits with no actual experience of living or working in Aboriginal areas. Brief courses in ‘Aboriginal culture’ as part of initial training, and before recruits have gained any experience of policing in Aboriginal areas, are of little value.[1448] In-service courses and seminars are a better method, and should be a compulsory part of continuing education for police officers who work in areas with significant Aboriginal populations.