- The Suspect Target Management Program (STMP) singles out youth suspected of committing offences and places them on a special list.
- Once identified, youth are repeatedly stopped, detained and visited at home.
NSW Police data obtained by Greens MP David Shoebridge reveals more than half of the hundreds of children on the Suspect Target Management Program (STMP) are described as “Aboriginal”. The youngest child targeted is nine years of age.
"STMP is racist policing, pure and simple,” Mr Shoebridge said.
"Just 5.6 per cent of kids in NSW are Aboriginal but this police data shows that 51.5 per cent of the 400 young people targeted by the STMP are [Indigenous].”
Under the STMP (dubbed ‘stomp’), young people are identified by police for “pro-active attention”. Once on this list, youth are repeatedly stopped, detained and even visited at home, with no apparent reason.
"Something is seriously wrong when policing are placing dozens of children aged 9 to 13 on a secret list that is seeing them repeatedly stopped, searched and questioned … sometimes dozens and dozens of times a year,” Mr Shoebridge says.
A data analysis conducted by Mr Shoebridge’s office found:
- More than 300 children are on the NSW Police secret blacklist, half are Aboriginal and the youngest child targeted is nine years of age.
- Indigenous children are overrepresented recipients of STMPs.
- Indigenous children subject to STMPs are likely to be younger than their non-Indigenous counterparts.
- There is substantial evidence of racial discrimination in the application of STMPs.
Data analysis provided by Mr Shoebridge’s office shows that an Indigenous young person is almost 19 times more likely to be singled out by the STMP; while an Aboriginal child under the age of 15 is almost 31 times more likely.
“There is no other way of describing the outcomes other than racially-biased policing,” Mr Shoebridge told NITV News.
“This program will just confirm, in many young Aboriginal people’s minds, that the police are out to get them. And to unfairly target them, and to unfairly discriminate against them. And when you look at the data, that conclusion looks bloody reasonable,” he concludes.
A NSW police spokesperson told NITV News: "The NSW Police Force has been very clear to recognise and accept that the over-representation of Aboriginal people within the justice system is unacceptable”.
“We are committed to continue our work with relevant agencies on strategies aimed at preventing members of the Indigenous community coming into police custody and into the justice system more generally.”
A ‘shady’ operation
Critics condemn NSW Police's lack of transparency when questioned about the STNP; the criteria used for its implementation is unknown; and they have repeatedly refused requests to make it public, sounding alarms for lack of accountability.
Suspects aren’t notified when they’re added on or removed from the blacklist and there is no recourse for appeal.
“They, by definition, won’t know that they’re on this secret list. What they’ll be experiencing is just routine, daily police harassment. And that’s a recipe for fractured relations with the community, not for reducing crime,” Mr Shoebridge explained.
The Greens NSW Spokesperson for Justice and Police believes there is no legislative basis for the program.
“There’s no statutory warrant for this program. There’s no part of the Law Enforcement Powers and Responsibilities Act or the Police Act that directs police to do this. It’s purely a management tool and relies upon the general powers of police to investigate crime and speak to the community,” the Greens MP told NITV News.
“I think there’s little doubt that a good number of the searches that have been conducted are likely to be unlawful. There’d be no reasonable basis for police to be stopping, interrogating and searching young people. The fact that they’re on a secret blacklist is not a basis for somebody to be stopped and searched by police while going about their business.”
Mr Shoebridge obtained limited STMP data through a freedom on information request. He had previously raised questions about the strategy on Senate Estimates last year, following a damning report published in 2017 by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which criticised the NSW Police policy aimed at “predicting and preventing future crime”.
The Policing Young People in NSW: A study of the Suspect Targeting Management Plan report released by the Youth Justice Coalition considered the STMP was “causing serious harm to young people” and “undermined the objectives of the NSW youth justice system”.
Report co-author, Camilla Pandolfini said at the time of publication “there is no publicly available evaluation or evidence that the STMP actually prevents or reduces crime”.
The study's principal investigator and author, Dr Vicki Sentas, from the UNSW Faculty of Law and Redfern Legal Centre Police Powers Clinic, also voiced her concern about the lack of accountability and transparency in relation to the STMP.
“Young people are not formally notified when they are placed on the STMP, or for what reason. They have no opportunity to appeal the decision, nor any information about what they need to do to be removed from it.”
She says this latest data reiterates her previous findings "that the STMP is a policy failure and bad policing".
Dr Sentas agrees with Mr Shoebridge that there is no legal basis to justify the STMP, clarifying that it's a policy and a program, not a law.
"The STMP doesn’t give police any more power than they already have under existing legislation that sets out for example, when police can lawfully search or move a person on," she told NITV News.
"Our research found that the courts are finding that the police are acting unlawfully when they search a person just because they are on the STMP."
She also criticised NSW police's lack of transparency in revealing its data. Dr Sentas says her team "experienced extreme barriers in accessing the statistics". NSW police placed a prohibitive cost of thousands of dollars on her team's request for information, which meant their access was very limited.
FOI correspondence between Mr Shoebridge and NSW Police sighted by NITV News also revealed police refused in full to disclose STMP frameworks and operational procedures when requested, citing “responsible and effective government” and “law enforcements and security” clauses.
The Youth Justice Coalition report made nine recommendations to NSW police, including that they: discontinue applying the STMP to children under 18; make the STMP policy and operational arrangements public; to amend the policy to mandate formal notification of inclusion on the list and reasons behind the decision; to evaluate if the policy is, in fact, reducing youth crime and conduct a comprehensive review of the STMP; and to provide all police officers with formal training on the program.
Racial profiling concerns
For Mr Shoebridge, the data unquestionably reveals racial profiling.
“Aboriginal kids make up less than six percent of the population in NSW. But somehow or another, they’re over half of the kids who have been put on this secret blacklist. That’s not an accident, that’s a product of deliberate police action. And it’s about time it stopped,” he said.
Dr Sentas has a similar view.
"The STMP stigmatises and criminalises Aboriginal young people, it disrupts family relationships and makes it harder for young people to get back on track and avoid the criminal justice system.
"Our research found that the STMP entrenches systemic forms of institutionalised racism that mean that Aboriginal communities are over policed rather than partners in real solutions to address the causes of offending."
But NSW police adamantly declare this is not the case: “In respect to the Suspect Target Management Plan we must be equally clear to indicate that it does not discriminate".
"It targets those who continue to break the law in a recidivist type way to help reduce violence and crime in the community. An important part of its purpose is to help divert individuals away from criminal behaviour."
However, there is no clear link between the STMP and crime reduction.
Dr Sentas told NITV News her research revealed young Aboriginal people were targeted for "minor prior property offences". Others with no criminal record were guilty by association.
"The STMP also targets young people who haven’t ever been charged with an offence but are flagged because they’ve been stopped many times by police or have offending peers. Many Aboriginal young people are being targeted by police for behaviours stemming from cognitive and mental health issues, or behaviours a result of living in trauma."
Dr Sentas believes there are other "smarter" alternative avenues for police to address the causes of offending, "not more coercive policing that will be a pipeline to incarceration."
“I asked the Police Commissioner if there were any academic studies or any other evidence that the police held that showed that the STMP program actually reduced crime or reduced recidivism. The answer I got was no,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“There’s no evidentiary support for the idea that police targeting, repeatedly stopping and searching vulnerable young people sets them on the right path. Anecdotally, this is doing exactly the opposite and destroying relations between vulnerable young people and the police,” he concluded.
The suburbs with the largest numbers of kids on the STMP are: Wagga Wagga (12), Campbelltown (11), Mount Druitt (11), Dubbo (11), Cabramatta (10), Windale (Lake Macquarie, 9), Hinchinbrook (Cabramatta, 8) and Gosford (8).