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'There need to be consequences for actions' : Legal groups condemn NSW police after guilty officer keeps job

Dechlan Brennan -

Legal groups in NSW say they are concerned a police officer found guilty of assaulting an Indigenous teenager is still employed in the organisation, arguing it highlights a broader lack of accountability in the NSW Police Force.

Last week, National Indigenous Times revealed Senior Constable Barlow, who was sentenced in December to an 18-month community correction order with supervision and required to undertake 125 hours of community service work, is still employed by the NSW police, despite being found guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm in May 2023.

Emma Hearne, the Principal Solicitor for the National Justice Project (NJP), represented the Aboriginal teenager in the case. She told National Indigenous Times it was "disappointing" Barlow remained employed by the police, months after he was found guilty for a "brutal assault on a child."

"The lack of accountability within the force is a serious problem, and one of the many reasons why we aren't seeing meaningful changes in policing, despite case after case of people being hurt or mistreated by the police," Ms Hearne said.

"The police aren't above the law, and there need to be consequences for actions."

After Barlow's sentencing in December, the teenager's mother told reporters outside court: "The issue of police brutality is a long-term systemic problem."

Ms Hearne's criticism comes as NSW police have been widely criticised for a series of incidents involving First Nations people.

Accusations include a Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) report finding police routinely violated youths - including Indigenous teenagers - right to silence, and not wearing not wearing body-worn video (BWV) when arresting a 14-year-old Indigenous teenager.

Samantha Lee says issues with the police are systemic (Image:Steven Siewert)

Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) senior solicitor Samantha Lee told National Indigenous Times it was a "positive step" to see the process go through the courts, despite Barlow remaining employed.

"That has been a big hurdle in the past," Ms Lee said. "It sends a really important message that the police are legally accountable and need to think clearly and carefully before crossing that legal threshold."

However, she noted: "It doesn't provide any comfort unless the behaviour is being addressed."

"There is a tendency to blame these events on a few 'bad apples' rather than analyse why they keep happening," Ms Lee said. "There is something that is causing this action on a systemic level and that needs to be addressed."

"I think this type of behaviour is never just one individual…it needs to have a wider focus."

Last year, RLC highlighted NSW police use force against First Nations people at vastly disproportionate rates. Furthermore, RLC have led cases against the NSW government over covid-19 fines, which were known to be "disproportionately issued to communities with a high proportion of First Nation populations and in low socio-economic areas."

Ms Lee said: "There needs to be some internal navel gazing [from NSW Police] ...this is a workplace issue."

"It is important police know they cannot act with impunity."

Premier Chris Minns has previously defended the NSW Police, despite the significant over-incarceration and disproportionate uses of force towards Indigenous people, arguing they are not to blame. This despite NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb saying Closing the Gap targets would lead to "competing duties" for police, described by one human rights lawyer as an "outrageous statement."

This week has seen a NSW police officer charged over the death of Dunghutti teenager Jai Kalani Wright in 2022. Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT chief executive Karly Warner said: "Jai is one of at least 558 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have died in custody and police operations since the Royal Commission that was meant to stop this national shame."

NSW Police told National Indigenous Times the disgraced senior constable had appealed both his sentence and conviction. They avoided questions inquiring how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should feel that someone convicted of assault was still employed by the police.

The NSW Police Minister declined to comment, citing that the appeals process is still before the court.

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