CCC encourages police to improve awareness of Aboriginal culture

By Shannon Jenkins

October 25, 2019

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Western Australia’s corruption watchdog has praised the state police force for taking steps to improve the way it treats Indigenous Australians.

The Corruption and Crime Commission tabled a report in state parliament on Thursday outlining ways the WA Police Force has improved its awareness of Aboriginal culture.

In the report the CCC acknowledged that its investigation into the 2014 death of Joshua Warneke exposed “systemic issues regarding the investigative policies and the manner in which police interacted with Indigenous people”.

Just last year, Gene Gibson — the man who was wrongfully convicted over Warneke’s death — was awarded a $1.3 million ex-gratia payment by the WA government. 

Gibson spent nearly five years of his seven-and-a-half year sentence in prison. 

In 2015, the CCC made seven recommendations for improvements to interviewing practices, the understanding and implementation of the Criminal Investigation Act, and the police manual.

WA police has responded to those recommendations in a “practical and positive” way, according to the watchdog, and successfully implemented five of the seven recommendations within a year.

 “The WA Police Force has continued to address the issues identified by the investigation, and taken a wider approach to transforming the relationship between police officers and the Aboriginal community,” the CCC said.

According to the CCC, WA police has recently taken steps to improve its Aboriginal cultural awareness, such as the establishment of an Aboriginal Affairs Division (AAD) to assist with identifying and driving ongoing cultural change, and delivering updated training to recruits and existing staff on Aboriginal culture and issues affecting Aboriginal communities.

The AAD has developed a reconciliation action plan and has started working on a broader Aboriginal strategy, the report said. An Aboriginal Police Advisory Forum made up of eight Aboriginal leaders from diverse backgrounds has also been formed “to assist with external engagement and relationships with Aboriginal people and their communities”.

The Investigative Standards Unit has also developed initiatives to help investigators identify vulnerable people during interviews, and has moved to the Standards and Practices Division as part of the Community and Coordination Portfolio.

The CCC noted that such structural changes to the police force have had positive impacts.

“With a focus on longer term initiatives, this new structure, with its direct reporting line to the Deputy Commissioner, is viewed by the commission as evidence of a genuine commitment to support ongoing organisational change and continued improvement in its interactions with indigenous people,” it said.

However, the CCC added that there “remains an identified weakness in the preparation for officers being deployed to remote areas of WA, especially with regards to the cultural considerations for a specific area”. It said that beyond a local induction, “which is highly dependent on the experience and availability of local staff”, there is a lack of specific cultural training.

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