• A NSW Police policy that aims to predict and prevent future crime is causing serious harm to Aboriginal youth and has no evidence of crime prevention. (AAP)Source: AAP
Children as young as 10 are on a ‘secret police blacklist’ which harms Aboriginal youth, their families, and communities and is proven to not effectively combat crime, new research has revealed.
Laura Morelli

26 Oct 2017 - 3:19 PM  UPDATED 27 Oct 2017 - 2:24 PM

A new report has found that the Suspect Target Management Plan (STMP), a NSW police policy that aims to predict and prevent future crime, is instead causing harm and targeting Aboriginal people and those under the age of 25.

Report author and principal investigator, Dr Vicki Sentas, told NITV News research suggests it undermines the objectives of the NSW youth justice system and that there’s no clear evidence on crime prevention.

“Young people are experiencing patterns of oppressive policing that are harmful to them, their families, the community and are particularly harmful in criminalising already over-policed Aboriginal young people,” she said.

Police calculate a person’s future risk of offending and put them into a category of extreme, high, medium or low risk. Those on the STMP are singled out for attention, including being repeatedly detained and searched while going about their everyday lives.

Report co-author, Camilla Pandolfini said the STMP reveals that children as young as 10 have been targeted for monitoring.

“Young people report being stopped and searched in public, sometimes several times a week, and visited at home by police, late at night, for no specific reason,” Pandolfini said.

“It is particularly concerning that the policy appears to disproportionately target young Aboriginal people.”

NSW police told NITV News that the framework targets recidivist criminal offenders, regardless of age, to prevent them from committing crimes and disrupt their capability to commit crime.

"A thorough risk management framework is used to ensure the NSW Police Force is targeting the right people at the right times to reduce violence and crime in the community," a NSW police spokesperson said.

"On all occasions, the STMP undergoes a quality assurance process by a senior police officer to ensure the validity of the process.

"While deliberately engaged by police, STMP nominees are treated with respect and tolerance, but they are reminded that the community will not tolerate criminal behaviour." 

Sentas believes STMP interventions are often based on discriminatory assumptions, raising serious issues around procedural and substantive justice.

“This type of heavy-handed proactive policing is very damaging to the relationship between young people and the police. We believe it undermines key objectives of the NSW Justice system, including diversion, rehabilitation, and therapeutic justice,” Sentas explained.

“It is particularly concerning that the policy appears to disproportionately target young Aboriginal people.”

Disruption of family relations

Sentas said a huge problem with this policy is that its aim is to create disruption - especially for Aboriginal communities.

“What this policy does for Aboriginal families is destructive. It takes over-policing it to the next level and formalises it," she said.

"The STMP targets people who have committed crimes in the past. This includes minor crimes like petty theft, but those are still targeted without further looking into the context.”

The policy unfairly targets vulnerable children and gives intense patrolling rather than holistic community approaches, which results in Aboriginal family members being negatively impacted by their child’s STMP status, according to the research.

A common occurrence noted by one lawyer used by the report in in a case study was that Aboriginal families are being ‘leaned on’ as part of the STMP strategy.

“The approach that police take of using discretionary powers to drive a family out … the STMP is being used as a mechanism for that,” the lawyer said.

This was after one 15-year-old's experience of being on the STMP resulted in harassment that caused his family to leave his local area. For his lawyer, the youth's offending history of thefts did not justify the deleterious effects on his family.

“Property offences were being pursued in a fashion where the main victims of the situation were actually his family, rather than any of the property owners the police were ostensibly trying to protect,” the lawyer said.

Push for public debate

Despite commencing in the year 2000, Sentas only came across STMP four years ago. She fears the lack of knowledge surrounding the policy.

“The public have no idea about the policy. Our main aim is to create a public debate about the harmful effects of the policy, particularly on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community,” she said.

Sentas said it’s time to have a proper review of the policy.

“The STMP itself is not publicly available, even the risk categories aren’t available so a person on the STMP can’t even know the reasons why they are being targeted by police,” she said.

Sentas warns that this unjustified secrecy is preventing a proper program evaluation.

“What we’re really concerned about is how difficult it was to get statistics from NSW police. It was very expensive for us to get the limited data - which clearly demonstrates that for 10 Local Area Commands 44 per cent of all people on the STMP were Aboriginal people – that is incredibly high,” she explained.

“If NSW Police say the STMP prevents crime, then show us – make the data publicly available and let the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research assess it.”

The researchers are also urging the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission to conduct a comprehensive review.

Recommended changes

This report is the first public analysis of the impact of the policy on young people. The data shows multiple issues for people under the age of 25, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth, such as:

  • Disproportionate use against young people and Aboriginal people.
  • Patterns of ‘oppressive policing’ that may be damaging relationships between police and young people.
  • Increasing young people’s costly contact with the criminal justice system and no observable impact on crime prevention.
  • Encouraging poor police practice
  • No transparency and an absence of oversight, scrutiny or evaluation

As a result, the report proposes a number of recommendations based on these findings and Sentas said the changes must be implemented as it targets Aboriginal youth, is not an appropriate crime prevention tool and has damaging effects to the community.

“All young people should be removed from the STMP because we think it is harmful and NSW police have a special care and obligation to youth,” she urged.

“Police are gatekeepers to the criminal justice system and have a responsibility to act in ways that are fair, legal and proportionate. The STMP does not meet those criteria.”

Sentas said the policy is likely to further criminalise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

“Children suspected of being at medium or high risk of reoffending should instead be considered for evidence-based prevention programs that address the causes of reoffending or locally based programs developed in accordance with Just Reinvest NSW.”

The report, released by the Youth Justice Coalition, has been supported by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Aboriginal Legal Service, The Shopfront Youth Legal Centre, UNSW Sydney, Redfern Legal Centre and Marrickville Legal Centre.

The full report Policing Young People in NSW: A study of the Suspect Targeting Management Plan is available here.

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