WA police commissioner Chris Dawson to issue apology to Aboriginals over 'unconscious bias'
WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson will apologise to Aboriginal people today for their treatment by the State’s police, claiming a history of racism or “unconscious bias” needs to end.
In an historic address at police headquarters, Mr Dawson will urge his officers to ask themselves each time they dealt with an Aboriginal person if they were treating them the same as they would a person of another race or background.
He told The West Australian yesterday the apology would not mean police would give criminal behaviour a “free kick” and they would continue to enforce the law. He wanted a police force that was no longer distrusted and feared by Aboriginal people, as had been the case in the past.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “That’s not to say other police in the past have always done things wrong. Many officers have always done the right thing. I just think we can do things better.”
Mr Dawson has chosen NAIDOC Week — which celebrates the culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people — for the gesture, which will include their flags flown at police headquarters for the first time. He stressed he did not want the apology and flying of the flags to be just symbolic.
“I want this to be a real movement in which we are going to act and police differently than we have in the past,” he said. “We want to treat Aboriginal people as all people should be treated.”
Mr Dawson said WA officers were proportionally more likely to deal with Aboriginal people than people of other backgrounds because they were over-represented as victims of crime and as offenders.
Despite that, WA Police diverted fewer Aboriginal than non-Aboriginal youths away from the court system, the agency did not have a reconciliation plan and indigenous people were under-represented in the force, he said.
The WA Auditor-General revealed last year that Aboriginal juveniles were diverted 35 per cent of the time between 2012 and 2016, compared with an average rate of 45 per cent.
But the analysis found no clear reason for the difference because not every regional location or police station servicing significant Aboriginal populations had low diversion rates.
Mr Dawson said the disparity had to change to break the intergenerational cycle of crime.
He said the history between Aboriginal people and WA Police had “been punctuated by a lot of sadness and ... harm”.
The decision of governments to have police take children from their families during the Stolen Generation, as well as keep Aboriginal people away from towns under the 1905 Aborigines Act, had contributed to the fraught relationship.
Mr Dawson said he wanted to emulate the situation in Wyndham — where Aboriginal children ran towards police cars and saw officers as their friends — in every neighbourhood.
He has not sought legal advice about making an apology but has consulted Aboriginal leaders.