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NSW premier claims police not to blame for Indigenous incarceration

Dechlan Brennan -

The New South Wales Premier has defended the way police have interacted with young Indigenous people, despite a number of scathing reports in recent months by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) in relation to the policing of Aboriginal people in the state.

Chris Minns told the Guardian NSW police are not to blame for the disproportionate Indigenous incarceration rates in the state.

Speaking from Barwon, the premier said he was "concerned about the level of Aboriginal incarceration across the board" when asked if he was concerned about the policing of Indigenous people in regional NSW.

"That's a really complex problem that we have to try and solve," he said.

"We can't just put it all on the police's shoulders or blame the police, because often a whole series of things have gone wrong before there's an interaction between an Indigenous youth and a NSW police officer."

Of the 12,272 incarcerated offenders in NSW, 3,725 (30.4 per cent) are Aboriginal, according to the latest statistics from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

More alarmingly, 54.8 per cent of all young people incarcerated identify as Aboriginal. Over 56 per cent of those youth inmates are incarcerated on remand.

The premier was addressing a spate of youth crime in regional areas of the state, saying he believed the police have "a really good idea" of how to handle crime and build community safety.

He stated his reluctance to hold a parliamentary inquiry into the issue.

"I'd rather just get on with it," he told the Guardian.

This sentiment was echoed by police minister, Yasmin Catley, who said an inquiry would only delay the action the government is implementing to help young people.

In recent months, a series of reports by the LECC have highlighted the actions of the NSW police, including coercing Indigenous children as young as ten to participate in interviews against legal advice and not wearing body-worn video (BWV).

Ofnthe failure to observe a person's right to silence, the LECC was scathing: "In 2004 and 2005 the NSW Police Force issued protocols instructing police how to properly deal with a young person who declines an interview," they said in a report.

"These protocols appear to have been forgotten and are no longer in use."

At the time, the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT said the right to silence was a fundamental principle of the Australian legal system, which was routinely being violated.

Indigenous and legal groups have been critical of police interactions with Indigenous people in the state; only exacerbated after NSW Police commissioner Karen Webb told the LECC that making NSW police officers responsible for addressing Closing the Gap targets would lead to "competing duties".

This despite statistics highlighting Indigenous people were 20.4 per cent more likely to be refused bail, even "after accounting for other relevant case characteristics," between 2019 and 2022.

Aboriginal people also made up 46 per cent of all adults subject to warnings under consorting laws despite making up less than 3.5 per cent of the NSW population. Experts have argued this highlights over-policing for some communities over others.

One lawyer told National Indigenous Times at the time commissioner Webb's comments were "outrageous," whilst the LECC said the commissioner's views "may explain the contrast" between the goals the NSW Police has stated publicly about improving their relationship with the state's First Nations' people and "the evidence of Aboriginal over-representation in NSW Police Force policing interactions".

The Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) previously obtained data which showed NSW police use force against First Nations people at a vastly disproportionate rate.

"First Nations people were involved in about 45 per cent of the use of force incidents," RLC police accountability lawyer, Samantha Lee, said.

"The NSW police have a systemic problem that requires a systemic solution."

She has called for an inquiry into the police's use of force.

In recent months, a NSW police officer has been found guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm of a Aboriginal teenager - with his employment currently being reviewed, whilst another officer has been placed on restricted duties whilst his conduct is probed after he performed a leg sweep on a handcuffed and disabled 18-year old Indigenous man.

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