Behind the blue and white: WA Police commitments to Indigenous community

Superintendent Brian Wilkinson with Commissioner Chris Dawson. Photo supplied by WA Police.

Superintendent Brian Wilkinson is eager to forge a new pathway for the Indigenous community and WA Police to walk down together.

Since WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson’s apology to Indigenous Australians during NAIDOC Week last year, WA Police has been working on fostering positive relationships with Indigenous communities.

The Aboriginal Affairs Division (AAD) of WA Police was established in August last year and was resourced with staff last October.

A leadership team was appointed in May which included Superintendent Brian Wilkinson, Inspector Sue Parmer and Inspector Geoff Regan.

Since its creation last year, the Aboriginal Affairs Division has put together the WA Police’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), introduced the Aboriginal Service Medal, held its inaugural Aboriginal Employee Symposium or “Dandjoo” (gathering in Noongar language) and created the Aboriginal Police Advisory Forum (APAF).

“These are what we call our foundation works. It’s about establishing some good foundations internally … ensuring that we start from a platform of working with the Elders and leaders of the community,” Superintendent Wilkinson said.

Made up of eight Indigenous leaders from across WA, as well as police executives, the Advisory Forum was established to help the police better understand Indigenous Australians’ needs.

“We need a human-centric design to policing. That means the Aboriginal citizen is at the centre in driving what we do in policing,” Superintendent Wilkinson said.

Increasing Indigenous employment and education
Superintendent Wilkinson said he wants the level of employment within the force to reflect the percentage of Indigenous Australians in the WA population.

Currently, Indigenous Australians make up 1.9% of WA Police and 3% of the broader population.

“At the very least, we want to reach 3% Aboriginal employment soon,” Superintendent Wilkinson said.

Superintendent Wilkinson is also leading the Division in policy and legislative reviews.

“When we find there are bits of legislation or policy that indirectly result in the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the justice system, we’re looking for alternative justice strategies,” Superintendent Wilkinson said.

For Superintendent Wilkinson, a key to these alternative strategies is education.

He said the Division is working on diverting young people from the justice system in the first instance by organising youth to go out on country with Elders, spend time working on pastoral leases or even engage in formal training.

“I think education will play a really big role in any sort of strategy,” Superintendent Wilkinson said.

Waiting for the sign of respect
Part of WA Police’s RAP includes flying the Aboriginal flag at every police station across the state.

While Superintendent Wilkinson admitted flying the flag alone is not going to solve problems between police and the Indigenous community, he said it’s a starting point for WA Police’s commitment to reconciliation.

“For [WA Police and the Indigenous community] to come together, there has to be trust and respect. So, the first bit of respect we’re showing is by flying that flag,” Superintendent Wilkinson said.

The flags won’t be up until the end of next year, but the Superintendent said that is purely logistical.

He said WA Police has budgeted for the flags, but they still have to install flag poles at stations that don’t have enough.

Flagging youth justice
After recent research reported young Indigenous Western Australians aged 10-17 were 27 times more likely to be put under youth justice supervision, WA Police has established a new youth division.

“My particular division [AAD] is working closely with that division to start to unpack some of those issues that face youth,” Superintendent Wilkinson said.

“But the ultimate goal is really to prevent and reduce their over-representation in the justice system.”

The Superintendent said he wants to partner with Aboriginal communities and service providers to work on WA Police’s youth initiatives together.

The Division has 35 community engagements planned across the state and has already been out to Port Hedland, Roebourne and Newman.

The Superintendent said he wants to investigate a program that is having great success for youth in Port Hedland.

“I plan to have a closer look at that as an exemplar and then see what we can learn from that to help elsewhere,” Superintendent Wilkinson said.

Internal racism improving
The Division’s leadership team includes Inspector Geoff Regan, an Indigenous man who only weeks ago spoke out about the racism he has faced inside WA Police.

On May 11, The Weekend West reported that Inspector Regan had received a shockingly racist anonymous letter as recently as two years ago and that throughout his 27-year career he has been subject to racist acts such as having a gollywog in a hangman’s noose placed in his locker.

Although Inspector Regan has been subject to racism in the past, Superintendent Wilkinson said he personally has never had any overtly racist experiences during his career.

Superintendent Wilkinson said it is disturbing to hear such stories and that there is no place for such behaviour in the police force.

“We have to learn in WA Police how we become more inclusive of people with diverse backgrounds,” Superintendent Wilkinson said.

The Superintendent said he believes things have improved over time and that a recent group of cadets he spoke to said they have not had any racist experiences but sometimes they felt unwelcome.

“We’re a conservative organisation traditionally. So, we need to be honest with where we’re at,” Superintendent Wilkinson said, admitting WA Police has a way to go with inclusivity.

“It’s [about] winning the hearts and minds of police officers,” Superintendent Wilkinson said.

“My aim is to show them the benefits of diversity.”

By Hannah Cross

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