21 March 2021

More work needed to build trust between police and Indigenous Canberrans: Ombudsman

| Dominic Giannini
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A new report has made nine recommendations to improve the relationship between Indigenous Canberrans and ACT Policing. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

More work is needed to build trust and a positive relationship between ACT Policing and Canberra’s Indigenous community, the ACT Indigenous Affairs Minister said in the wake of an ACT Ombudsman’s report recommending greater cultural training for police officers.

The report also recommended updating operating procedures and an overarching plan to improve how ACT police officers interact with Canberra’s Indigenous communities, noting a history of “deep animosity” between Aboriginal people and police.

Ombudsman Michael Manthorpe initiated the review after his office received complaints from members of the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and was conducted “against a backdrop of ongoing over-representation of community members in the justice system”.

Indigenous people in the ACT are experiencing increasing incarceration rates, making up almost a quarter of prisoners despite accounting for less than 2 per cent of the population.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith did not commit to establishing a Victoria-style truth commission, instead saying the government had already commissioned a system-wide, Aboriginal-led review into their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.

READ MORE We need to acknowledge how we’ve failed Indigenous communities

“We have a strong commitment to hearing the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including through the Elected Body, and to providing opportunities to educate the community and develop a deeper understanding of the true history of our nation, our region and our city,” she said.

The Ombudsman’s report will inform this review.

Rachel Stephen-Smith

Rachel Stephen-Smith said more work is needed to build a positive relationship between ACT Policing and Canberra’s Indigenous community. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Mr Manthorpe made nine recommendations after receiving complaints about the poor practice of officers and finding discrepancies between justice targets and the action of police day-to-day.

ACT Policing accepted four recommendations, partially accepted two others, noted one and said further consultation would be undertaken in regards to another.

Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan said diverting vulnerable people away from the justice system and reducing recidivism are priorities for the force.

ACT Policing will also hire a third Aboriginal Liaison Officer in the coming months to provide culturally appropriate support for Indigenous people throughout the justice processes, Mr Gaughan said.

“I acknowledge that ACT Policing engagement with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community can always be improved,” he said.

Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan

Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan said ACT Policing would work towards the nine recommendations in consultation with the Indigenous community. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

“ACT Policing is supporting vulnerable people by working in partnership with the government and the community to ensure they receive the right help to reduce harm to themselves and others.

“We want to divert people from the justice system where we can.”

Shadow Indigenous Affairs Minister Elizabeth Kikkert called on the ACT Government to expand existing restorative justice options or create new diversion programs.

Ms Kikkert said current programs like the PCYC, highlighted in the report, already had a waitlist of more than 200 people for its programs.

The full report can be found on the ACT Ombudsman’s website.

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They are over represented in the justice system because they commit crimes at a disproportionately higher rate than other people.
They are already given more funding and support services than any other group in the country, by a long, long way. You can only do so much. It is time for these people to take responsibility for their own actions.

I very much agree

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