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The racism case Victoria Police didn't want

Jun 18, 2020 • 17m 16s

As debate over police accountability continues, research suggests predictive policing may be targeting racial minorities in Australia.

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The racism case Victoria Police didn't want

246 • Jun 18, 2020

The racism case Victoria Police didn't want

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

As debate over police accountability continues, research finds ‘risk-based’ or ‘predictive’ policing, known for targeting racial minorities, may be in use in Australia.

Victoria Police has been challenged in court on the issue, but settled the case without a finding being made.

Today, journalist Santilla Chingaipe on police and racial profiling.

**

RUBY:

Santilla, I wanted to start with a court case that began in 2008. Can you tell me about the case? What was being challenged and what happened?

SANTILLA:

Yeah. So in about 2008, a group of mainly African Australian young men took Victoria Police to the federal court because they allege that they were being targeted by police because of the color of their skin.

RUBY:

Santilla Chingaipe wrote about race and policing for The Saturday Paper.

SANTILLA:

And they said that they were being stopped regularly and searched and questioned some instances of actual physical assault as well.

Archival tape -- reporter:

They claim they were regularly stopped, searched, questioned and even beaten by police just because they were black.

SANTILLA:

I think at the time, one of the men involved in the case, Makki Issa, said that he felt that he was pretty much stopped constantly.

Archival tape -- Issa:

I was pretty much stopped almost every second day for just going on the train or…

SANTILLA:

You know, almost every other second day was pretty much how he described it while just going about his business in the Flemington area of Melbourne.

Archival tape -- Issa:

Young African men in this particular area - Flemington, Kensington, North Melbourne - in the years in question have been stopped 2.5 times more than their population suggests should be the case.

SANTILLA:

So that was essentially what led to that to that court case around that time.

RUBY:

And so what was the legal point that was being challenged?

SANTILLA:

Well, the legal point was that, you know, racial profiling was happening, that these young people were being stopped because of the color of their skin, not because of anything else that they'd done. You know, so many of them claimed that there was any basis for police to stop them. And this was what they wanted to challenge.

And, the case was settled. So it didn't go to trial. And Victoria Police have sort of been. It's interesting how they've worked around the language because they haven't necessarily admitted to racial profiling.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Throughout the case Vic Police has consistently denied it engages in racial profiling. It says the young men involved in the case were stopped and questioned by the police for legitimate reasons.

SANTILLA:

But they did admit to failures in how they policed communities that had a lot of people from culturally diverse backgrounds, you know, and as a result of that, decided to overhaul the way they policed and engaged with people from these communities.

Archival tape -- reporter:

In settling the case, Vic Police has agreed to conduct an inquiry into two main issues...

SANTILLA:

These cases went on from about 2008 until early 2013. Up until that point, there hadn't been a case taken to the federal court on the basis of race discrimination.

And it was a significant outcome for these young people, but also for the community legal centers that had stayed on this case. Because, you know, to keep that pressure on, you know, a powerful institution like like the police to admit wrongdoing is a significant thing.

RUBY:

And just so I'm clear, in in this case, police, they chose to settle instead of having a finding made. Is that right?

SANTILLA:

Yes. So the settlement happened in February of 2013. Later that year, they released a report and that sort of outlined a three year action plan of things that they were hoping to implement to address some of these shortcomings that were identified as a result of that of those cases. And they outlined two phases.

So the first phase was from about 2014 to 2016. And this was a suite of measures that they were going to introduce which involved reforming policies, you know, cultural awareness, training and piloting programs.

You know, one of them was a ticketing program. So essentially police would issue you with a ticket and they would give you the reason for why they've stopped you.

And the idea is that, you know, if you're being stopped simply because of how you look, you will probably accumulate a large number of these tickets in the course of of of a period of time. But that trial was sort of stopped and they've now replaced it with like a business card system.

So we're currently in what the report described as phase two. And again, it's very broad in the description of some of the policies that they're implementing.

RUBY:

And so these reforms that were put in place. Are we able to gauge how effective they have been and if much has changed because of them?

SANTILLA:

Talking to people that work in this sector, particularly people from the community legal centers, they seem to think that not a lot has changed. One of the biggest issues was around transparency in this data and how this data is collected, because they do know that police do collect information about people that are stopped, people that are charged.

And having access to this, to be able to sort of look at these patterns and whether or not the claims that are being brought to them by people within the community match, you know, the data that police are collecting. So that in itself is clearly something that hasn't changed since this case was brought on.

And that is obviously a big worry in terms of police accountability and and and, you know, creating a sense of trust within communities that police aren't specifically targeting people because of the color of their skin. So I spoke to Leanne Weeber and she went to the Greater Dandenong area.

Archival tape -- Weber:

My name’s Leanne Weber, I’m an AP of criminology at Monash University…

SANTILLA:

So this is in one of Melbourne's suburbs. And it's quite a culturally diverse suburb, low socio economic area predominantly.

Archival tape -- Weber:

And I was interested in speaking to young people from migrant backgrounds, for whom belonging is a really important concept.

SANTILLA:

And she went in to sort of look at how young people from culturally diverse backgrounds. She specifically focused on young people from South Sudanese-Australian backgrounds and Pasifika backgrounds and how their interactions with police were was impacting their sense of belonging.

Archival tape -- Weber:

It was moving and at times quite shocking just to see how much fear and distrust some of these unwanted interactions with police had created.

SANTILLA:

And she went in, you know, essentially focusing on that and inadvertently started to notice that their interactions with police and some of the things that she was picking up from these conversations and from the anecdotal evidence was highlighting to her that it looked as though police were gathering information about these young people.

Archival tape -- Weber:

I talked about being stopped and being asked very intrusive questions. Basically needing to account for themselves, why they were in that particular place. Who are you, why are you here, and who are your friends?

SANTILLA:

And listening to some of the things that they were saying, the way that the information was being gathered to her was very similar to how some of these predictive policing tools work, which led her to suspect that it could be happening.

Archival tape -- Weber:

And this took me into issues such as risk-based policing and some of the drivers of systemic racism and the lack of accountability that seemed to be really damaging trust between these communities and police in that area. And the increase in prediction is much wider than just what I found in my study…

RUBY:

And those practices. Is that what predictive policing is?

SANTILLA:

Yeah so, information gathering and intelligence is not new in policing, but what predictive policing, what's new about predictive policing is that it is as a result of newer technologies.

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Santilla, can you tell me more about predictive policing? What is it? And what is the effect of it?

SANTILLA:

So, so-called predictive policing uses new technologies such as facial recognition, video surveillance system, social media to monitor and then help collect and analyze this data and put it in a system that the algorithms determine whether or not an individual is likely to commit crime and in which locations these individuals might be. So it sort of predicts the probability of someone to reoffend. So it's physically useful when it comes to recidivism or reoffending in many ways.

And so one of the criticisms of the so-called predictive policing is that it tends to amplify racial bias. And these are some of the concerns that people that work in this area have. And they'd like to see greater transparency around how these tools are used.

RUBY:

Mm hmm. And can you tell me more about how these technologies and tools that you're describing are being used by police in Australia?

SANTILLA:

Yeah so the NSW police watchdog, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission, decided to investigate, it's called a suspect targeting management plan, or STMP. And it's sort of applied, as they call it, the intelligence-led proactive policing policy. And apparently it's been in operation by the New South Wales police force for at least two decades. And it's a preemptive tool to stop reoffending or to limit and minimize reoffending.

And so the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission, or LECC, investigated this and in January this year, they handed down their findings and they found that young people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds were disproportionately selected by this STMP targeting program.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Police officers there have been accused of racial bias against Aboriginal children under a repeat offender monitoring scheme.

SANTILLA:

Some of the children who had been targeted previously hadn't had any offenses recorded.

Archival tape -- unknown:

How is it that STMP identifies more than 50% as suspects being Aboriginal, when the population across the board in NSW of Aboriginal people is 2.5%?

SANTILLA:

The youngest person that was targeted through this program was a nine year old Aboriginal boy from rural New South Wales. And despite the fact that he had no record of being charged for crimes prior to being targeted by this system, when he was added to the system, he was charged I think something like 90 times according to this LECC investigation.

Archival tape -- unknown:

This entire program, the STMP, is part of the problem isn’t it?

Archival tape -- unknown:

I would say it’s part of the problem but it’s part of the solution as well…

SANTILLA:

So clearly, this has caused a little concern for people that work in this sector. I spoke to Nadeen Miles, who is from the Aboriginal Legal Services, New South Wales and ACT.

Archival tape -- Miles:

Police targeting children, nine, ten, eleven, all the way through very young 20 years and determining that they are going to be repeat offenders in the future. So therefore, the best way to actually tackle this was to overpolice them...

SANTILLA:

And she expressed concern and she and she argued that this was a clear example of racism.

Archival tape -- Miles:

It's hard to come to any other conclusion in my mind when you've got such a high level of of children being policed or targeted under STMP that there's not a racial element to it, to all of this.

SANTILLA:

And, you know, as she said, it just supports all these arguments that Aboriginal communities have been making for years, for decades and centuries, that they are being targeted and they're being mistreated and that these policing tactics are inherently racist.

Archival tape -- Miles:

The fact that they feel disrespected and targeted by police in the towns across New South Wales. It's just a common story that I've heard over and over again. It just doesn't seem to stop.

SANTILLA:

When I contacted New South Wales police, they essentially forwarded me on to the LECC report. And the LEC report sort of at the end talks about how a New South Wales police are conducting a trial program, piloting a new STMP system and saying that, you know, that trial program was supposed to end in December and they couldn't go into specifics of what they've you know, what that trial looks like. What that new program looks like.

When I ask similarly of the authorities here in Victoria where there is suspicion that a similar kind of program operates. The police minister, Lisa Neville, essentially sort of said when I asked her about institutional racism in policing, said that, you know, race is not and will never be used as an indicator of crime, which to me is a pretty broad statement because it doesn't explicitly address the issues surrounding institutional racism, because institutional racism we know exists.

I mean, I've been looking at this for over a decade now and these patterns have been happening for so long and very little is changing, you know, and that has been something that. Has been quite frustrating to watch and see how little is being done and how little is changing and how worrying, you know, some of the interaction of some of these measures, for example, at this predictive policing and the fact that there is no oversight.

RUBY:

In the course of your reporting, have you formed a view about what needs to happen to make police accountable?

SANTILLA:

I think that it is something that successive reports and inquiries have also looked at. I think the most recent report by the Australian Law Reform Commission, this was an investigation that was actually commissioned by the former Attorney-General, George Brandis, looking at trying to, you know, look at why there was an overrepresentation of First Nations people within the criminal justice system. That inquiry recommended the need for independent oversight bodies and different organizations, people that I've spoken to see differently with these in Victoria. Legal centers argue that that's what this state needs. It needs an independent oversight body.

In New South Wales, when I spoke to Nadine Miles, her argument is it's that they do have practices in place, but they're poorly funded. So there's only very there's only so much they can take on and that they can do to hold police accountable.

So I think the complexity of the fact that within each jurisdiction there are different ways, methods by which this is being dealt with and needs to be addressed I think is something that’s also something also worth taking into consideration.

And I think it is worth keeping an eye on and how the different jurisdictions are dealing with policing, particularly in regard to indigenous and black citizens, because there is evidence that shows that these communities are being disproportionately impacted by some of these practices.

RUBY:

Santilla, thank you so much for your time today.

SANTILLA:

Thank you.

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RUBY:

Also in the news -

The Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has outlined plans to reform the party following the branch-stacking scandal that has led to the departure of three of his ministers.

Speaking yesterday, the Premier announced that voting rights of all Victorian Labor members will be suspended until 2023.

Former premier Steve Bracks and former deputy federal leader Jenny Macklin have also been appointed as administrators, and will conduct a review of the branch.

Meanwhile, the federal Labor MP whose office was the scene of covert filming used to uncover the alleged branch-stacking says he's cooperating with authorities.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is *7am** see you tomorrow.

As debate over police accountability continues, research suggests predictive policing may be targeting racial minorities in Australia. Victoria Police has been challenged in court on the issue, but settled the case to avoid a finding against them.

Guest: Journalist and documentary filmmaker Santilla Chingaipe.

Background reading:

Law enforcement and racial profiling in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem. Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Make sure you don’t miss out by subscribing on your favourite podcast app. I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

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246: The racism case Victoria Police didn't want