Police Indigenous policies up for review

·2-min read

When and how is it appropriate for police to ask members of the public for their Indigenous status?

Finding an answer to that question is among a number of recommendations by an ombudsman investigating how ACT officers engage with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Nine recommendations, including the development of a 'cultural training strategy' formed part of a report by Commonwealth and ACT Ombudsman Michael Manthorpe, published on Tuesday.

"My office undertook this investigation informed by complaints from members of the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, and against a backdrop of ongoing over-representation of community members in the justice system," Mr Manthorpe said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprise just 1.9 per cent of the ACT population but account for 21.9 per cent of the Territory's prison population in 2019.

The report aims to improve the force's administrative and governance processes.

Mr Manthorpe recommended that police consult stakeholders including the Aboriginal Legal Service, Justice and Community Services Directorate, and Indigenous community "to determine when and how it will ask members of the public whether they identify as Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander".

He said police should develop community-specific justice programs and operating procedures to ensure contact with the Indigenous community is lawful.

There should be improved record-keeping of interactions with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, and amendments to complaint-handling guidelines.

"I acknowledge the historical realities of engagement between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the police," Mr Manthorpe said.

"Addressing this mistrust will be a long journey, requiring public commitments and demonstrated action over many years."

But, implementing these recommendations will help police develop a "solid administrative foundation" for working with the Indigenous community and "build a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship", he said.

There are about 7500 Indigenous Australians living in the ACT, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

ACT Policing is part of the Australian Federal Police.