Victoria Police reject racial profiling concerns, commit to data collection trial

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Human Rights lawyers say police continue to target people on the basis of ethnicity and are calling for mandatory data recording to monitor potential racial profiling.

The public housing estates around Kensington in Melbourne’s inner north are home to an incredibly diverse community.

One resident, Eritrean refugee Kheder Mussa, believes police specifically target people of African appearance.

“They are very rude, they don't practice to be nice to all the people. Sometimes I get upset but you can't do nothing about it, at the end of the day they're the law,” Mr Mussa said.

Victoria Police says its position is absolutely clear when it comes to racial profiling.

“We target behaviour of individuals, not individuals or their ethnicity. That is our firm policy position. We train to that, we are held accountable to that,” Deputy Commissioner Wendy Steendam told SBS News.   

Tamar Hopkins, who is a PHD candidate researching racial profiling within police forces, said the practice does still happen in Australia and the consequences can be significant.

“It makes them aware that Police police differently depending on your race and that is not acceptable in Australia,” she said.

Ms Hopkins was present as Victoria Police released the findings of a three-year accountability study into data recording for police interactions with people from different migrant backgrounds.

She says the glaring omission was the introduction of mandatory data collection, also known as 'receipting'.

“The fact is there is no way of monitoring whether that policy is working or not, it's absolutely critical that we start collecting data on whether or not people are being racially profiled or not,” Ms Hopkins said.

But Deputy Commissioner Steendam says Victoria Police research has shown outcomes can be worse when police are compelled to collect data on sensitive issues such as race.    

“We need to be very careful and very considered about how we go forward on what questions we ask members of the public in terms of ethnicity and how we use that and how we record that data,” she said.

Victoria Police will trial a range of discretionary data collection over the next three years.

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