Sally Rawsthorne and Cameron Gooley, Sydney Morning Herald, January 14, 2022
Arresting officers will ask all suspects and victims if they are Indigenous in a policy change that NSW Police says will provide improve data and ultimately create a fairer justice system.
From Friday, it will be mandatory for police to ask all offenders and victims if they are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and to record their response in the police database. It follows a recommendation from the NSW Police Aboriginal Strategic Advisory Council.
People will be asked whether they identify regardless of their appearance or background, but it will not be mandatory to respond.
NSW Police’s corporate sponsor for Aboriginal engagement, Assistant Commissioner Joe Cassar said the approach would improve justice outcomes for Indigenous people, who are overrepresented in prisons.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Indigenous people make up 27 per cent of the average daily prisoner cohort in NSW despite making up only about 3 per cent of the general population.
“The mandate was introduced to improve the recording of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status in the NSW Police system,” Assistant Commissioner Cassar said.
“Asking allows us to improve safe custody practices, refer vulnerable people to support services and divert them from the criminal justice system.”
Last year the state government knocked back a recommendation from a parliamentary inquiry to try to achieve parity prison rates by 2031.
It instead reaffirmed its support for the National Agreement on Closing the Gap target of a 15 per cent reduction in Indigenous incarceration rates.
NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics executive director Jackie Fitzgerald said the new requirement would provide a more accurate picture of victims and offenders.
“Improving this data for both offenders and victims helps us evaluate First Nations programs, and identify patterns of success and areas where we are not doing as well as we would anticipate … so we can better allocate our resources and efforts,” she said.
“For example, last year about 23 per cent of domestic violence victims and 20 per cent of drug offenders did not have a recorded Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander status.”
The Aboriginal Legal Service’s acting chief executive Nadine Miles said there was a need for more accurate data.
“There’s usually a component of the data set that is labelled ‘unknown’ which implies that the police are unaware whether the person they’ve dealt with under the circumstance is Aboriginal or not,” she said.
“That is troubling to us because we are doing what we can as an organisation in trying to raise awareness and make an impact over the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system.”