Suggestions for Police Reform
[by Paul Richards]
Paul Richards. Image: supplied
In 1973 the newly formed ALS found;
43% of children in detention In Queensland were indigenous when they represented 2% of the community. Some were as young as 10 years old and began their early lives in detention. When this was revealed in answer to a question in parliament, Premier Bjelke Peterson ordered that no such statistics were to be kept in the future. They wanted to keep it secret.
Aboriginal children were put into juvenile detention centres for trivial offences or even just truancy. This was at a time when the education system taught that they did not exist, and at a time when they were subjected to humiliating denigration at school. So, they were reluctant to attend school. But there was no education in the detention centres anyway; other than how to become a professional criminal. On discharge they were unable to obtain employment and lived in poverty. Why would they not resort to theft to obtain the necessities of life? Many thousands of ordinary citizens suffered from their thefts and burglaries, caused by the callous legislation of the state governments.
Also in that year, the ALS was asked by the Prisons Department to help them get an Aboriginal man to leave the gaol. Every time he was due for discharge, he would deliberately commit another offence, so as to stay in gaol. He had spent most of his life in detention and had become institutionalised. That was not uncommon. Some would actually deliberately commit an offence so they could go to gaol to dry out or visit a relative.
Aboriginal parents were jailed for trivial offences to the detriment of their families, especially the next generation. One man who had missed the bus to Woorabinda was stuck in Duaringa. He had no money and was sentenced to six months gaol for vagrancy. Another was gaoled for six months for stealing a box of matches. Another, nine months gaol for stealing a sausage and a can of Fanta.
Discrimination in employment, under award wages and slavery meant that all Aboriginal families were poor. When Brisbane Tribal Council started, none of its members had a car and relied on a church car borrowed by Pastor Don Brady.
There are many other stories of oppression of indigenous families in my book, Adventures with Agitators. I only mention a few here by way of example.
I believe that the ruling classes of Queensland deliberately created the image of Aboriginal people as criminals in the general community to justify the theft of their land and the crimes against humanity perpetrated against them by the state. That also created in the minds of some Aboriginal people a criminal self- identity.
CONTEMPORARY OPPRESSION IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM
Because of a high level of racial discrimination in the general community some thought should be given to whether indigenous people would have a greater chance of acquittal by a single judge rather than 12 ordinary (white people) chosen at random from the community; especially, since they often compromise by finding guilt on some charges in order to reach a unanimous verdict Much has been done by the indigenous community, in terms of reconciliation, with magistrates and judges amongst whom one would find a lower level of such discrimination.
POLICE AND CORRECTIVE SERVICES
There has been progress in the legal profession and the judiciary but much more needs to be done in the police and corrective services areas.
Our views are all influenced by our past generations. Even unconsciously one might have some degree of prejudice. There are people who have personality disorders such as anger management issues. In the same way that the priesthood is an attractive vocation for a paedophile, the police and corrective services roles are attractive to sadists.
Some police officers have personality disorders or extreme attitudes which may cause them to behave inappropriately towards members of the general public. It is best to identify such officers before they have the opportunity to cause harm.
I'm not familiar with the current situation as I am now retired, after nearly half a century of work as a lawyer for and with the indigenous community. This is one suggestion.
There could be a committee established by legislation to oversee the process of identifying problem police officers. It should be made up of a number of community representatives with expertise and respect (especially a number of indigenous elders). From the ranks of the police service the committee could identify those who may be most likely to have the appropriate attitude. Those officers should be designated by some official title eg. Liaison Investigators.
The Liaison Investigators should have the role of interviewing each police officer (from a designated grouping of, say, not more than 20) each week or two. They should inquire of each officer whether that officer has felt that he has had occasions when his temperament has not been conducive to good relations with the community. They should also inquire of each officer as to whether he/she has seen or heard any other officer engage in such conduct or attitude. Those liaison Investigators should report to the committee each time it meets, say once per fortnight or once per month, depending on logistics. If the committee is concerned as to the attitude of any particular officer, it should require him/her to attend a committee meeting for discussion with that officer. If the committee believe that there is a problem, then it should try to address it with that officer in terms of remedial activity. However, if they are satisfied that it is extremely serious and cannot be remedied, then they should report it to the Commissioner recommending education, demotion, transfer or dismissal. The commissioner would probably have to have the last say.
The decision of the Commissioner and that of the committee should be kept on record and made available to any person making a future complaint about that officer.
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