21 May 2024

Racial profiling a concern as ACT decides to consider 'Jack's Law' for knife detection

| Claire Fenwicke
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police officer in Canberra

ACT Policing officers can currently only conduct frisk searches on people they reasonably believe could be carrying a weapon. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

The government will consider increasing ACT Policing’s powers to allow them to use metal-detecting wands in public without reasonable suspicion.

Shadow Attorney-General Peter Cain urged the ACT Government to consider implementing powers consistent with ‘Jack’s Law’ in Queensland to crack down on knife-related crime in the Territory.

He argued recent attacks in NSW showed the ACT should be proactive in preventing such violence and pointed to results in Queensland to back his assertion giving police such powers was appropriate.

“The existing scheme that allows ACT Policing to search for illegal weapons or other unlawful items is informed by laws that need revision and that do not fully satisfy intended outcomes,” Mr Cain said.

“Under stop, search and detain powers [in the Territory] … police only have powers to conduct an ordinary or ‘frisk’ search if police suspect a person has a ‘thing’ in their possession relevant to a serious offence.”

ACT Policing officers aren’t allowed to use metal detection wands to conduct such searches.

Mr Cain said this opened up officers to the possibility of injury and that frisk searches were often “intrusive” by their very nature.

“While frisking is a necessary element to ensure community safety, searches often carry greater risk and discomfort for both the officers and the person being searched,” he said.

He also argued removing the requirement for reasonable suspicion to be established would give police officers the ability to conduct a “discrete and immediate” search in public.

“If [people] have nothing to hide, then it’s unlikely you would oppose a search,” Mr Cain said.

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The Griffith Criminology Institute reviewed the implementation of Jack’s Law and found that it had increased the detection of knife carrying.

However, the 2022 review also noted that there was no evidence yet that wanding deterred a person from carrying a knife or that it had reduced violent or other crime.

It did, however, lead to an increase in detected drug offences, which it noted could “increase the flow of minor offenders into formal criminal justice proceedings”.

The law was fully implemented in Queensland in March 2023.

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury raised concerns the report showed young, Indigenous males were “disproportionately” searched and said the government needed to ensure – if it implemented this law change – that there couldn’t be inadvertent profiling of vulnerable cohorts of people and that police couldn’t use the law as an excuse to search for items other than knives.

“It is incumbent on us to make prudent and evidence-based decisions about criminal laws and police powers and not to expand them in knee-jerk fashion or for political expediency,” he said.

“It is critical that police powers are reasonable, human rights compliant, evidence-based, non-reactive and not have the effect of over-policing vulnerable cohorts of Canberrans.”

The NSW/ACT branch of the Aboriginal Legal Service also raised concerns that giving people the power to search people for no reason would harm Aboriginal people and other marginalised groups.

CEO Karly Warner said the proposed laws would not have prevented recent events where people were injured or killed.

“All they will do is force more Aboriginal people and other marginalised groups into contact with police,” she said.

“We know that giving police additional powers to stop and search will lead to Aboriginal people being disproportionately and unfairly targeted, impacting the health and well-being of community members and forcing their contact with carceral systems which put them in danger.”

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Police Minister Mick Gentleman noted that while Canberra’s knife-related crime rates were relatively low when compared with other jurisdictions, the government was willing to examine what changes could be made to keep the community safe.

“I’m sure we would all agree that any knife crime in our community is too much,” he said.

“It remains imperative that [ACT Policing] remains equipped with the necessary tools and resources … [we] are open to exploring further reforms that can prevent similar tragedies [to NSW and Queensland] in the ACT.”

The ACT Government is required to report its findings back to the Legislative Assembly by the last sitting day in August.

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Anyone with half a brain would be able to tell that a law like this does absolutely nothing to deter someone carrying a concealed knife. It’s reactionary bs. Bondi, ANU, and the west Sydney attackers were all known to police and mental health services, how about fixing those actual problems?!

Let’s not kid ourselves that certain races commit more crime per capita than other races.

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