Victoria Police settle racial harassment case
Victoria Police promise to investigate how it deals with ethnic groups after it settles a civil case over racial profiling of Afro-Australian men.PT3M46S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2emyq 620 349 February 18, 2013
YOUNG men of African origin are more than twice as likely to be stopped, searched, and questioned by police than the rest of the population in parts of Melbourne, an analysis of a police database has revealed.
The analysis was prepared on behalf of six Afro-Australian men who claimed Victoria Police racially discriminated against them in Flemington and North Melbourne between 2005 and 2009.
Afro-Australians represent 18 per cent of the population in the area and 25 per cent of alleged offenders, but made up 45.6 per cent of interactions with police.
The findings came to light on Monday after the settlement of a civil case in which the six men had claimed they were racially profiled by police.
Victoria Police will hold an inquiry into its public relations and cultural awareness training, with a response to be announced by December 31.
Chief Commissioner Ken Lay said: ''I do not believe our members would identify people and harass or continually check them simply because of their ethnicity.''
He urged the African community to reserve judgment until the review was complete and said police were considering two or three ''pre-eminent people'' outside the force who ''know the multicultural area very well'' to aid the process.
Court documents alleged a number of assaults by police, including one case in which a 13-year-old was stopped and searched without charge before a police officer allegedly bent his finger until the bone cracked, and then walked off.
The men, who were teenagers at the time, also claimed they were often stopped, questioned and searched, solely because they were black.
An analysis of data from the police LEAP database by Melbourne University professor Ian Gordon, commissioned on behalf of the six men, found that of those on the LEAP database, African men from the area committed significantly fewer crimes than men of other ethnicities. When dealing with African men, police were more likely to record the term ''gang''.
Victoria Police said any policing on the basis of race is unacceptable and denied the allegations of racial discrimination, saying ''the applicants were stopped and questioned by police not because of their race or colour, but for legitimate policing reasons''.
But Tamar Hopkins, principal solicitor of the Flemington and Kensington Legal Centre, gave the example of one applicant, Maki Issa, now 21, who was stopped outside his home at the Flemington flats and asked to provide a reason for being there.
The case also produced documents used by police in multicultural training.
In August 2010 about 20 or 30 officers at Springvale police station were shown a presentation titled African/Sudanese Cross Cultural Advice. One slide on ''Young (at risk) African Males'' said they were ''typically inducted into a rebel army or warrior tribe as part of their teen years and consequently develop a strong 'warrior' ethic''.
The slide said the men ''will openly challenge anyone who threatens them regardless of potential consequence'', and that they are ''Following American rap/black American gang culture eg. clothes, music, demeanour and the belief that the police are their enemy''.
The six applicants in the case will receive a confidential sum of money and both sides agreed to pay their own legal costs from the long-running dispute.
Law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler, which represented the men for free, spent $2 million on the case, while Mr Lay said the action had cost taxpayers more than $3 million since 2008.
He said taking the case to trial would have cost an extra $3 million and this was a factor in deciding to settle.
The settlement was reached on the day the trial was due to start in the Federal Court in Melbourne, where Mr Lay was expected to be among the first to take the stand.
Former director of public prosecutions Jeremy Rapke, QC, representing the African men, had earlier told the court he intended to ask Mr Lay what he did and did not do after commissioning a report into race relations in the Flemington area in April 2006, while he was deputy commissioner and responsible for the north-west region.
As well as naming four police, the African men had sought to hold the police chief and the State of Victoria vicariously liable for failing to take all reasonable steps prevent racial discrimination.
Peter Seidel, public interest law partner at Arnold Bloch Leibler, said past reviews had ''failed dismally'' but the new inquiry was a ''watershed moment in Victoria's history'' that would benefit police and the wider community.
Ms Hopkins said police should issue receipts to those stopped on the streets to increase transparency and make data collection easier.
Mr Lay said such a system had already proved problematic and costly in Britain. ''It doesn't change the behaviour of people so I'm not quite sure that's the answer,'' he said.