The ACT Barr Government has been scrambling to explain dramatic increases in the rate of apprehension of Indigenous Canberrans of 35 per cent over four years, and seen arrests rise by 64 per cent as arrests of other Canberrans increased by just 24 per cent.
Chief police officer Justine Saunders said the figures were concerning.
“The overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in our justice system is a grave concern to me, and to all our partners who work in this space,” she said.
“The suggestion that this is a result of racial profiling and systemic discrimination, certainly I haven’t seen any evidence of that as the Chief Police Officer, since I have been here, and in fact it is completely contrary to all the policies, practices, and the legislative framework within which we work.”
The chief officer said ACT Police had done quite a bit of work around unconscious bias within the force, but said there was another cause for the dramatic numbers.
“The numbers you are seeing, is a result of the overrepresentation of a very small number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders committing multiple offences – so it’s the recidivism that’s of grave concern to me, and which is the primary reason for that spike you’ve seen over recent years,” Justine Saunders said.
Dramatic Indigenous arrest and apprehension increases are “uncomfortable,” the ACT Police Minister Mick Gentleman has admitted.
But the Opposition Leader said there is either a “subconscious or conscious profiling taking place” or a dramatic spike in crime.
In response, the ACT Indigenous Affairs Minister Rachael Stephen-Smith said “it was not policy” that drove the spike – but couldn’t detail what did.
Police Minister Mick Gentleman agreed with the chief officer's claim of repeat offenders being to blame for the increases.
“Sometimes it can be an individual family that can distort those numbers, a number of offences occur and of course Police need to act and they do the arrest,” he said.
“We’ve talked about possible alternatives, we have restorative justice programs, circle sentencing – but in order to achieve those two, you actually need to say you have been guilty of an offence to get in to those programs.
“We are looking to see whether there is an opportunity for perhaps offenders in interview to remain silent in order to access those programs.
"It is a testy time to think about this, but we do need to provide as much assistance to our vulnerable people as we can.”
But Opposition Leader Alistair Coe said it was a clear case of failure of Government policy.
“Well whatever way you look at this, it’s pretty worrying – and of course it’s not a hallmark of the ACT that we’re the number one jurisdiction when it comes to the per capita apprehension rate of Indigenous people,” he said.
“Either there is a subconscious or conscious profiling taking place, or there is genuine crimes being perceived to be committed.
“One way or another it is a real worry and it shows the government’s policies simply are not working.”
The ACT Indigenous population is 7500 according to the ABS, while the territory’s overall population is 397,000.