Educate senior police on racism, human rights group urges

A reluctance to acknowledge the existence of racial profiling and a misunderstanding of how racism can be part of police practice underscores the need for better education in the Victoria Police, Liberty Victoria said today.

This follows a call by the Law Institute of Victoria for police to be required to have written consent before stopping and searching people deemed to be suspicious.

Both Liberty’s statement and the lawyers’ comments were in submissions to an inquiry after complaints by men with an African background in the Flemington area.

Liberty President Jane Dixon SC said evidence showed people from non-white communities were being disproportionately and arbitrarily subject to police powers.

Liberty Victoria is heartened that Victoria Police accepts that racial profiling is an unlawful or illegitimate policing technique, and that this forms a tenet of training,” Ms Dixon said. But many senior police have not undertaken this training.

“Racial profiling is unlawful under both international and domestic human rights law.”

Chief Commissioner Ken Lay has said it was legitimate to target “young African men” who were “suspects”. Evidence suggest people of African descent were committing crimes and where such evidence was present it was legitimate to direct police resources towards suspects. Ms Dixon said such statements appeared to show a reluctance by the police to take responsibility for racial profiling and acknowledge that there may be some officers who regard such techniques as legitimate.

“ Such issues have been reflected in several media reports and academic journals. “

She said Mr Lay’s statement over racist stubby holders, that acts of “overt racism” would be met with significant action by Victoria Police, while strong, showed a failure to perceive the complexity of racism and its ability to manifest in non-overt ways. “Examples include stopping persons of certain ethnic groups more often than persons of other ethnicities, and the extent to which racial profiling and police practices geared towards certain ethnic groups can have adverse impacts on relations between police and that ethnic group.”

Ms Dixon said the use of police powers that rely on stereotypes has been linked to increased levels of conflict between police and community members. “ Further, police powers to stop and search are disproportionately used on those who frequent public space and shared spaces such as public transport. This results in certain groups being over-represented and therefore being more adversely affected by the exercise of police powers.

And there was a possibility that people known to police are being targeted and labelled“ trouble makers”’ on the basis of perceptions rather than actual behaviour. "Such an approach does not reduce crime. It does alienate minority groups and prevent the engagement and participation of many groups in the broader community.”

There was no evidence to show that people from a particular ethnicity have a higher offender rate than others.

Ms Dixon said effective policing was achieved when police were able to both protect the community from crime and respect human rights and civil liberties.

“It is vital that all police are taught, and regularly reminded, that racial profiling is an unlawful and illegitimate as a policing technique.”


Jane Dixon SC

President, Liberty Victoria