Interaction with police


18.63 Relations between police and young people are problematic throughout Australia.[139] Participants in our focus groups and respondents to our survey, drawn from a variety of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, stated overwhelmingly that police are generally hostile and aggressive towards young people and treat them all as troublemakers.[140] Many police find young people aggressive and difficult to deal with.[141]

Studies in Australia and overseas have consistently identified police/youth relations as inherently conflictual and underpinned by mutual antipathy and intolerance.[142]

This level of conflict is a matter of serious concern. Like experiences of school discipline, early contact with police influences a child’s attitude to authority and the state.

18.64 Of the survey respondents who chose to comment on the way police treat young people, 78% stated that police never or only sometimes treat young people with respect.

The police stereotype kids according to what school you come from, what your background is, what colour you are. Kids should be treated the same no matter who or what you are.[143]

Police look down on us and walk around as if they have the authority to trample over us. I’ve never met a policeman who respected me.[144]

Indigenous young people complain of being routinely picked on by police in some areas.[145] For example, they claim they often get charged with minor matters such as offensive language and jay walking.[146] One boy in the Alice Springs focus group said that he had been taken bush and badly beaten by the police without being charged with any offence.[147] Indigenous young people in Rockhampton said there should be more black police officers, although they said they would not like them any better than their non-Indigenous colleagues.[148]

Some police don’t get along with the Aboriginals and they bash them and that sort of thing, which is racist.[149]

They treat Aboriginal kids like a dog on four legs. Also think we cause trouble all the time.[150]

Its always the black fellas that get treated worst.[151]

18.65 Not all young people expressed a negative or critical attitude towards police. A number of the focus group participants acknowledged the work of individual police officers.[152] Several survey respondents noted the importance of young people’s attitude to the police in establishing a positive dynamic between the two groups.

They treat you good if you treat them good.[153]

18.66 In developing the national standards for juvenile justice in relation to police the Inquiry considers that regard should be had to the model clauses developed by the Australian Youth Foundation.[154]

[139] This phenomenon has been documented in much juvenile justice research conducted during the last decade: eg I O’Connor & P Sweetapple Children in Justice Longman Melbourne 1988, 16–29; R White ‘Street life: Police practices and youth behaviour’ in R White & C Alder (eds) The Police and Young People in Australia Cambridge University Press Melbourne 1994; H Blagg & M Wilkie Young People and Police Powers Australian Youth Foundation Sydney 1995; C Cunneen & R White Juvenile Justice: An Australian Perspective Oxford University Press Melbourne 1995, 198–216.

[140] Adelaide Focus Group 29 April 1996; Canberra Focus Group 6 May 1996; Rockhampton Focus Group 2 August 1996. This view is supported by others, eg, Central Australian Aboriginal Child Care Service Public Hearing Submission 18 July 1996; A Borg IP Submission 33; Alice Springs Youth Accommodation and Support Service DRP Submission 91.

[141] H Blagg & M Wilkie ‘ Young people and policing in Australia: The relevance of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child’ (1997) 3(2) Australian Journal of Human Rights 134, 138.

[142] id 134.

[143] Survey Response 688.

[144] Survey Response 520. See also R White et al Any Which Way You Can: Youth Livelihoods, Community Resources and Crime Australian Youth Foundation Sydney 1997, 115–122.

[145] Tranby College Focus Group 10 June 1997.

[146] Darwin Focus Group 15 July 1996; Alice Springs Focus Group 19 July 1996; Rockhampton Focus Group 2 August 1996.

[147] Allegations of Indigenous children being taken bush by police against their will were the basis for the initial complaints in the Pinkenba case: D Eades ‘Cross-Examination of Aboriginal children’ (1995) 3(75) Aboriginal Law Bulletin 10.

[148] Rockhampton Focus Group 2 August 1996.

[149] Survey Response 192.

[150] Survey Response 169.

[151] Tranby College Focus Group 10 June 1997.

[152] Canberra Focus Group 6 May 1996; Darwin Focus Group 15 July 1997; Alice Springs Focus Group 19 July 1996. See also SA Children’s Interest Bureau DRP Submission 79.

[153] Survey Response 186.

[154] H Blagg & M Wilkie Young People and Police Powers Australian Youth Foundation Sydney 1995, 191–207.