Victoria Police has promised to investigate how it deals with ethnic groups after it settled a civil case over racial profiling of Afro-Australian men.
Police will hold an inquiry into their public relations and cultural awareness training as part of a settlement with six young men who claimed they were racially discriminated against in the Flemington and North Melbourne areas between 2005 and 2009.
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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.
The men, who were teenagers at the time, claimed they were assaulted by police and were often stopped, questioned and searched because they were black.
An announcement on what actions police will take in response to the inquiry is due by December 31 this year.
An analysis of data from the police LEAP database by Melbourne University Professor Ian Gordon, commissioned on behalf of the six men, found that:
- African men around Flemington and North Melbourne were roughly 2.5 times more likely to have their interaction recorded by police than the rest of the population.
- Of those on the LEAP database, African men from the area committed significantly fewer crimes than men of any other ethnicity.
- When dealing with African men, police were more likely to use terms such as "gang", "no reason" and "move on".
In a joint statement released on Monday, the parties involved in the civil case said racial profiling occurred when law enforcement decisions were made on the basis of race or ethnicity, rather than a legitimate policing reason.
Documents discovered in the six years since Flemington Kensington Legal Centre first lodged claims of discrimination have been made public to encourage greater transparency and accountability in how police question, stop and search the public.
The settlement was reached on the day the trial was due to start in the Federal Court in Melbourne, where police chief commissioner Ken 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.
"The police commissioner is off the hook", Justice Shane Marshall said on Monday.
As well as naming four police officers, the African men had sought to hold the police chief and the State of Victoria vicariously liable for failing to take all reasonable steps to prevent racial discrimination.
Peter Seidel, public interest law partner at Arnold Bloch Leibler, the firm that represented the men pro-bono, said “it is obvious that past reviews into relations between the African-Australian community in Flemington and the police have failed dismally".
He said the new inquiry was a "watershed moment in Victoria's history", which would benefit police and the public.
Police have invited public comment on the inquiry into community contacts and cross-cultural training.
Speaking outside court applicant Daniel Haile-Michael said the inquiry was a ‘‘monumental event’’.
‘‘It’s finally time that something is being done about [racism in Victoria Police],’’ he said.
Mr Haile-Michael described the frustration when police would repeatedly stop and question him and his friends at the Flemington housing estate.
‘‘Playing in the basketball court, which is like your own backyard, asking what you are doing in your own backyard... on a daily or weekly basis. By that stage obviously the officers knew us personally, they knew who we are, they knew where we lived and still they ask you the same questions. And on occasions they actually beat us up. That’s the honest truth.’’
He said racial discrimination by police was still a problem but that systemic change was the only answer. ‘‘I myself have been beaten up but ... it is not a personal thing. We understand it is a systemic issue and that is why we are trying to address it in a systemic way. It’s not about one police officer, it’s about changing a whole system’’.