Policing Aboriginal Communities: Conclusions

865. Aboriginal Police. Increasing the number of Aborigines in the police forces of the States and Territories, and extending the systems of Aboriginal police aides, may help solve some of these problems. But it ‘will not constitute a general solution and may in some cases be wholly inappropriate. There must be careful consideration and consultation on the question of appointing Aborigines to perform a policing role within Aboriginal communities, especially traditionally oriented ones. A formal system of police aides is not necessarily the solution, and in any event the major criticisms of police aide schemes, referred to already, need to be addressed.[1410] Where aide schemes are introduced they should be subject to periodic review, and should not be continued after the point where existing aides and new potential recruits can be incorporated in the regular force.

866. Self-Policing. Some degree of self-policing of Aboriginal communities as an alternative to a permanent police presence may often be feasible, and may be the only solution in some cases. It can result in a more efficient allocation of police resources while allowing communities to manage their own affairs to a greater extent. It appears to have worked with some success in the north-west of South Australia[1411] and in various places in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. This does not mean that such a system can only operate in the absence of police. It could be a useful adjunct to the existing police network and result in improved policing and better Aboriginal/police relations, including in urban areas. The methods of self-policing available will vary depending on community needs and aspirations. Consultation is essential to ensure that the appropriate balance is reached. There is no single solution to the policing of Aboriginal communities. Police forces throughout Australia need to examine carefully the policing needs of Aborigines, to discuss these with Aboriginal communities and to be flexible and innovative in seeking solutions.

867. Alternative Policing Strategies. To this end, improvements may be possible through the adoption of alternative policing strategies. Some of these strategies have been tried in other countries, and they may well be worth adapting to Australian conditions:

  • Decentralisation. One possibility, at least in urban areas or the larger towns, involves decentralising the structure of policing so that ‘officers develop a relatively enduring and multifaceted relationship with a manageable and definite area’.[1412] There has been some degree of success with this approach in the United States. The concept of neighbourhood policing in which ‘officers live in the community and participate in community life’[1413] is one version of this approach.

  • Team Policing. In some cities in New Zealand (principally Auckland) a system has developed of team policing. J squads, as they are called, consist of Maori officers, social workers and clergymen. They patrol areas with large Maori populations and have played an important role in defusing tensions and dealing with juveniles.

  • Watchdog Systems. This system encourages residents in high conflict areas to observe police conduct to ensure that they do their job properly and comply with proper procedures. The aim would be to ensure that the police, knowing that their conduct is being observed and will be reported on will make a commitment to improving the way they deal with Aborigines. It has been suggested that such schemes ‘alert police to native viewpoints and concerns, limit the range of police behaviour and possibly also decrease arrests’.[1414]

  • Decriminalisation of Certain Minor Offences, One way of reducing the conflicts between Aborigines and the police is by reducing the opportunities for conflict to occur. Decriminalising a range of public order offences may be one way of achieving this. Public drunkenness is no longer an offence in New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory and there are strong arguments for a similar approach to be adopted in other States.[1415] Other minor public offences could also be considered for repeal. This could lead to fewer arrests for minor and trivial infractions and a consequent reduction in Aboriginal involvement in the criminal justice system.