Proactive policing harms Indigenous: probe

Angelo Risso
·2-min read

The co-founder of a grassroots Indigenous justice organisation has likened proactive policing measures in NSW to fire trucks patrolling the streets in search of bushfires.

Deadly Connections co-founder Keenan Mundine on Tuesday appeared before the second day of a NSW upper house parliamentary inquiry into the over-representation of Aboriginal people in custody and reviews of Indigenous deaths in custody.

Mr Mundine started Deadly Connections in September 2018 in response to what he saw as a lack of culturally-responsive measures to stem the tide of Indigenous incarceration.

Custody statistics from June 2020 reveal more than a quarter of the NSW prison population is Indigenous, while at least 21 Indigenous people have died in NSW custody since 2008.

Mr Mundine suggested the disproportionate proactive policing of Indigenous communities was blunting any potential improvement in Indigenous over-representation in custody.

"It's coming into bushfire season but we don't see fire trucks patrolling the streets, looking for fires, we don't see ambulances patrolling streets looking to save people," Mr Mundine said.

"But we have the police parading around my neighbourhood and community stereotyping young people, stereotyping my uncles, aunties, because they don't understand my community.

"When you have people who come from outside Aboriginal communities to come in and police them without understanding them, they're always going to see things that don't sit right with them, particularly when they come from privileged communities and going in to police poor and disadvantaged communities ... everything is wrong."

NSW Police are able to search people or issue move-on directions as part of their proactive policing capacity but must hold a "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity. Police argue such measures drive down crime rates, particularly in relation to property crimes.

Mr Mundine's testimony comes after Australia's first Indigenous Senior Counsel told the inquiry on Monday that the NSW coroner should be given enhanced resources to independently investigate Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody, separate from police.

Tony McAvoy SC also recommended the installation of an Indigenous commissioner to sit alongside the coroner in order to instil confidence among bereaved families.

"It is very difficult for the family of a deceased in an Aboriginal community to have any faith in an investigation of a death in custody by people who are answerable to the same minister or commissioner as the people who may be the subject of adverse comment," Mr McAvoy said.

The family of Indigenous man David Dungay Jr, who died in Sydney's Long Bay jail in December 2015, also said they felt they had received no justice from their coronial inquiry because police had compiled the evidence presented to the coroner.

The inquiry continues.