Victorian cops react to racial profiling inquiry

Police in Victoria have launched a three-year plan to improve how they interact with minority communities.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Police in Victoria have launched a three-year plan to improve how they interact with minority communities.

It's an outcome of legal action brought by a group of Melbourne-based African-Australians alleging police intimidation.

But both the police and community representatives remain circumspect about the challenges ahead.

Richard Parkin has the details.

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Six years ago, 19 African-Australian men took legal action against Victoria Police, alleging so-called racial profiling.

The complainants alleged that African-Australians were more likely than others to be apprehended or questioned about criminal behaviour, merely on the basis of their appearance.

The case was settled in February with compensation being paid to the six applicants who had not dropped out of the long-running case.

As a condition of that settlement, police were ordered to conduct a six-month internal inquiry and extensive community consultation.

Outlining the key findings of this process in an extensive report, Victoria Police's Chief Commissioner Ken Lay made a surprising admission.

"Some of the stories that we heard would suggest that some of our members did racially profile. Now I'm not proud of that, I'm not happy about it, but this process has actually given me an insight into some of our practices that I hadn't seen before. So whilst I'm confident that Victorian Police as an organisation doesn't racially profile, I'm equally confident that some of our members have actually engaged in that process."

It was the first time Victoria Police had admitted that racial profiling had taken place within the state, and it drew a gentle rebuke from the Acting Premier, Peter Ryan.

"I think police in the conduct of their duties, they should apply themselves equitably across all elements of community."

The report takes into account more than 70 public submissions, the responses from five community forums and the review of an independent overseer.

Ethiopian-born Maki Issa was one of the six original complainants who remained involved in the case against Victoria Police to the end.

He's cautiously optimistic about the report.

"A very cleverly-worded document that does not acknowledge the past but prefers to move on, I guess from this point onwards. But they have taken on board a lot of the community recommendations they got from the consultation, which is a good sign."

The report outlines a three-year action plan, involving the establishment of community advisory groups, and a review and reform of officer cultural diversity training.

It also recommends a review of the police complaints process, with a view to improving community access.

The Chief Commissioner will personally oversee the community advisory group, a move welcomed by the chairman of the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria chairman Eddie Micallef.

"It means minority groups feel as though they do have a voice and that they are being listened to, and I think that's extremely important."

In February, Commissioner Lay stated that he did not believe officers would harrass people simply because of their ethnicity.

Now, he's saying that warding against habits of bias or 'unconscious racism' will take significant re-education and training.

"This is only the start. We've got one very long way to go with this now. You'll see reading the report that we'll delivery it completely after three years, so the hard work will begin now."

Those like Maki Issa are hoping the report will pave the way for a new mode of community consultation, not just in Victoria, but across the country.

"It's not about us. It's bigger than us. Now it's even bigger than the African community. it's a state-wide thing and we're hoping it will become a national thing."

 

Source World News Australia

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