2014-10-31
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Victoria Police settles racial profiling case

ABC
Monday, February 18, 2013

The Victorian police force has avoided a trial over claims that its officers commonly resort to racial profiling.

An undertaking to investigate the allegations was given to help settle a case brought by six young men of African descent.

They claimed they were regularly stopped, searched, questioned and even beaten by police just because they were black.

Maki Isse, who is originally from Somalia, says the outcome is particularly sweet.

"I was pretty much stopped almost every second day for just riding the train or walking through the streets of Flemington," he said.

"Yes we are happy with the results, because this is a starting point to improve policing in Victoria, not just for our community but for the wider Victorian community."

The case against several police officers and the state began about five years ago after the Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre in Melbourne's inner suburbs became increasingly concerned about the dozens of complaints it was receiving from young African men.

They alleged police were stopping them for unwarranted searches and questioning.

There were also allegations of assault, including an assault in detention.

Tamar Hopkins, a solicitor at the centre, said it was the first time a race discrimination case had gone all the way to the Federal Court.

"Never before have the police been put under this kind of spotlight, their practices, their procedures," she said.

"It's quite extraordinary.

"Cases like this, on the other hand, are very common in other parts of the world but until now Australian police have escaped from the level of scrutiny that they've needed in this area."

Throughout the case, Victoria Police consistently denied it engages in racial profiling.

It said the young men involved in the case were stopped and questioned for legitimate reasons and that excessive force was never used.

But as part of today's settlement, Victoria Police acknowledged that any policing involving racial discrimination was unacceptable.

One of the members of the force who was to be subpoenaed to give evidence in the case was Chief Commissioner Ken Lay.

He was a deputy commissioner and in charge of this area when the allegations were first raised.

The settlement means he will not have to give evidence.

Statistics analysed

In pursuing the case, lawyers for the young African men had University of Melbourne statistician Professor Ian Gordon analyse how often the men were being stopped by police.

Solicitor Peter Seidel says it bolstered their case.

"Young African men in this particular area Flemington, Kensington, North Melbourne, in the years in question have been stopped and searched two-and-a-half times more than their population would suggest should be the case," he said.

"Professor Gordon also found the young African men in this area commit significantly less crime; that's contrary to what we're hearing from Victoria Police."

In settling the case, Victoria Police agreed to conduct an inquiry into two issues.

First, how police deal with what they call field contacts - when they stop someone in public and ask them what they are doing.

Secondly, on multicultural training within Victoria Police.

Public comment will be sought on those two issues and the force has agreed to publish its findings and announce what action will be taken by the end of this year.

Mr Seidel says the young men should be lauded for their stand.

"It has been a very, very challenging and difficult road that the applicants have had to go down," he said.

"They're extremely brave. They ought to be treated as national heroes for the stand they've taken.

"They never, ever gave up."



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