Attitudes and Effects
Some Social and Historical Background
"The Dark Blue Uniform"
Directions in Police Education
Towards the end of 1987, Australian Governments decided to establish a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody. It was at first anticipated that the work of the Commission would have been completed within the span of approximately twelve months. However, it turned out that the dimensions and complexities of the situation had been at first greatly underestimated and, as a result of its initial inquiries, it was decided that the work of the Commission would have to be considerably extended and protracted. Western Australia recorded the highest number of Aboriginal deaths in custody from 1980 to 1988, making up 37 per cent of the national total. Following the establishment of the Royal Commission, the Western Australian Government set up an Interim Inquiry into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in Western Australia chaired by Mr. Philip Vincent. One of the matters established by that inquiry in The Vincent Report was that while Aborigines, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics - 1986 Census, comprise 2.7% of the total population of Western Australia, they comprise, according to the Department of Corrective Services Annual Report 1986-87, 35.6% of total sentenced and remand prison and lockup population (IR:17).
In reply to a vocal minority who were critical or impatient regarding the work of the Commission and wished either to restrict the thoroughness of the enquiry or abandon it altogether its first Commissioner, Justice J.H. Muirhead, had this to say in his Interim Report: (IR:65,66)
Australia must know the truth behind the deaths or else we must forever live with the knowledge that our fear of the truth or our misguided sense of priorities caused us to abandon an essential and momentous decision to examine a little of our national character and the behaviour of people in authority.
The Commissioner observed (IR:50)
In many parts of this country the relationship, or the measure of understanding, between white and black people is appalling. So also is the relationship between Aborigines and police who ... are perceived in the eyes of many Aborigines as the symbol of a white authority which perpetuates 200 years of bitter history.
Observing that in the Interim Report there was of necessity an emphasis upon police and prison practices and systems, Commissioner Muirhead (IR:6) explained that this was inevitable as police and prison officers are generally the custodians.
These officers perform functions vital to the security of our society, their roles, of bewildering complexity, are fraught with stress and at times with dangers. They must at times react to sudden and unexpected situations and it is but human nature that they will do so intuitively.
While recognising the difficulties under which police officers work, the Commissioner concluded that the underlying causes which result in custodial deaths are complex and that they are society's responsibilities. He emphasised that the central concern of the Report was the preliminary' survey of systems and practices' but that the conduct of individuals would be where necessary the subject of comment.
The Commissioner noted that the particular predicament of Aboriginal people has long been a matter of concern and the subject of comment by law reform bodies and by many others. In his opinion however (IR:65) progress had been limited due in no small measure to inability to comprehend the Aboriginal perspective and by reluctance to accept the need for and essential value of Aboriginal participation in decisions and the implementation of systems which affect their lives.
Considerable emphasis was placed in the recommendations of the Report on aspects of understanding and good communication between Aboriginal people and police. The comprehensive list of 56 recommendations included the following (IR:70,71):
32:All personnel of police, prison, social welfare or other departments whose work will bring them into contact with Aboriginal people should receive appropriate training or retraining to ensure that they have an understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal history, culture and social behaviour and the abilities to effectively communicate and work with Aboriginal people. (8.2.3) 33:The Aboriginal component of training courses should be prepared in consultation with representatives from the Aboriginal community. Training courses in Aboriginal issues should be examinable. (8.2.4) 34:Aboriginal police aide schemes should be re-examined to ensure their role is not merely to assist the police in everyday duties but rather to advise the police and to operate as a true link between the police and the Aboriginal population. They must be perceived by both the police department and the community as persons not only with understanding but with a voice. (8.3.2) 35:Steps should be taken to ensure that Aboriginal police aides have a true career structure and receive proper training and support to enable them to operate in the manner most conducive to effective policing in Aboriginal communities, an important component of which is to create better understanding. (8.3.2)
Perhaps most importantly however the Report recommended:
27:Appropriate screening procedures should be implemented to ensure that potential officers who will have contact with Aboriginal people in their duties are not recruited or retained by police and prison departments whilst holding racist views which cannot be eliminated by training or re-training programmes. (8.1)
This is not to say that police authorities themselves are strangers to such soul searching. While not denying the importance or significance of the Report, they claim that many of its recommendations were already in place as a result of their own self examination. The appropriate training or retraining mentioned by the Commissioner as being essential for police whose work brings them into contact with Aboriginal people has been of real concern to the police for some considerable time and they have in recent times embarked, with varying degrees of success, on a variety of different approaches to this problem. Amongst the outside bodies to whom they have turned for assistance have been the Department of Aboriginal Studies of Curtin University, the Institute of Applied Aboriginal Studies at WACE and, more recently, the School of Community and Language Studies at WACE. The amount of time and resources allocated to this aspect of overall police training however is still acknowledged even by the police themselves to be disproportionately small.)
Innovative programmes in Community policing' have been embarked upon with some encouraging results in areas where Aboriginal people predominate. These include both youth and work groups, and some Aboriginal members of the force, whose numbers are on the increase, are actively engaged in the furtherance of such activities. Police are naturally somewhat sensitive to the more extreme forms of criticism to which they are frequently subjected regarding areas which, they claim, have been under active review and positive action by themselves already. It is only possible therefore to make somewhat general observations regarding an institution which has come under considerable pressure in recent times and which is undoubtedly in the process of accelerated modification and change.
Such observations and comment are nevertheless still relevant to the extent that many lively prejudices still remain and attitudinal changes in the police force are as difficult, no more and no less, to effect as they are in the general community. The situation of Aboriginal police personnel in all this is at best an ambiguous one. Although now acknowledged as valuable both by Aboriginal people themselves and also the police department, the role of the Aboriginal police aide, as also the police constable, is one nevertheless which is fraught with particular tensions and difficulties. These require, and according to the police department are receiving and will continue to receive, constant and particularly vigilant attention. Referred to by J.H. Muirhead (IR:2) as a "heartening initiative" and one not necessarily associated with the establishment of the Commission, was the recent selection of twenty young Aboriginal people into the Police Cadet Training Scheme who subject to performance' will when nineteen years of age, enter the Police Academy with the prospect of qualification as police officers.
Acknowledging needs and pursuing the right means and measures to alleviate them however inevitably involves obstacles at the hands of some of the people in a position to pursue such measures. The police force, no less than the general community, is not immune from those attitudes which have done so much to generate and perpetuate feelings of resentment and distrust towards them amongst Aboriginal people. Undoubtedly there are many members of the police force of the calibre and quality to be effective in fostering good police/Aboriginal relations; equally and regrettably however the opposite is also true.
Research conducted for the present study bears out what the Interim Report has to say with regard to aspects of communication between Aboriginal people and police. In particular it demonstrates that it is the system' and the practice' rather than corporate malice as such which disadvantages Aboriginal people to the degree that it does. Nevertheless there seems little doubt but that the context of such accepted practice has proved to be not only fertile ground but also a protected environment within which all too frequent individual lapses from justice and humanity on the part of their ostensible upholders can occur without redress. The Commissioner's recommendations with regard to education, training and examination in this area therefore, together with appropriate screening procedures for potential officers, are important and most timely.
The notorious Brixton "Disorders" took place in London during the weekend of 10-12 April, 1981 (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). In the centre of Brixton, a few hundred young people - most of them black - attacked the police on the streets with stones, bricks, iron bars and petrol bombs (in the words of the subsequent report of an inquiry by Lord Scarman (1982:1), "demonstrating to millions of their fellow citizens the fragile basis of the Queen's peace"). Two hundred and seventy-nine policemen were injured, forty five members of the public are known to have been injured (although the number is said to have been considerably greater); a large number of police and other vehicles were damaged or destroyed (some by fire) and twenty eight buildings were damaged or destroyed by fire. Extensive looting also took place in nearby shopping centres while the police were involved in the riot.
One view as to the cause was forcefully proposed during the inquiry: oppressive policing over a period of years, and in particular the harassment of young blacks on the streets; another view (1982:2) proposed that the disorders "were a protest against society by people, deeply frustrated and deprived, who saw in a violent attack upon the forces of law and order their one opportunity of compelling public attention to their grievances".
Lord Scarman's overall conclusion however was that the disorders cannot be fully understood unless seen in the context of the complex political, social and economic factors underlying them. To ignore the existence of these factors according to him was "to put the nation in peril". That same summer violence broke out in many other areas throughout the country which shared similar social conditions to Brixton, and for which Brixton was seen to have served as a "model to follow".
The Report concluded (1982:2) that, while the police bear no more responsibility than other citizens for the conditions underlying causes for serious disorder "unless (they) adjust their policies and operations so as to handle these difficulties with imagination as well as firmness, they will fail; and disorder will become endemic ..."
Investigating police attitudes to Aborigines in NSW, McCorquodale (1986:14-18) explored the extent to which police discretionary powers were used in a manner which seriously disadvantages Aborigines more than Whites, and claimed: "The opportunity for the exercise of appropriate police discretions in the prosecution and conviction of offences is seen to militate heavily against blacks and strongly to the advantage of whites". McCorquodale produces extensive and convincing statistical data to support his findings. His argument is that this imbalance goes beyond the fair administration of the law to reflect "the paradox of police discretions and moral guardianship", which, he says, bedevil Aboriginal/police relationships: "In every Australian jurisdiction police were - and are - associated in the Aboriginal experience as a repressive and punitive arm of government". They are he says (1986:17) "generally perceived by the community as the instruments not simply of law but of someone's political order".
However, since the implementation of political decisions ultimately relies on the personal discretion of the individuals enforcing them, individual police discretion (either in the use of power or the exercise of discretions when not justified, or the non-use or non-exercise when justified) remains, not only as pointed out in a W A police in-service training booklet referred to later, a "unique authority", but also the kernel dynamic around which Aboriginal/police relations generally are defined. As McCorquodale suggests, and as can hardly be over-emphasised in the area of race relations: "The manner in which people perceive the policing of their area is as important as the reality of policing".
In the course of his extensive fieldwork and research McCorquodale assembled sufficient oral evidence from police sources which he describes as "a litany of condemnation from the guardians of moral welfare and community well being" to support his contention that the yardstick of conforming to conventional White behaviour and standards was as important if not more important in their scheme of things as was the pursuit of justice in its truest sense. McCorquodale also feels that a real comparison can be made between the Brixton disorders of 81 and the notorious Redfern disturbances in N S W.
No comparable study has been conducted in W A but it could indeed be argued on the basis of the above and other studies that the resistance (or lack of choice) among the Nyungars to conforming to the way of life' of the majority of other West Australians may well be an irritant for the police resulting in some at least of the police practices which are not only feared and hated by the Nyungars but which are dubious to say the least in terms of justice.
From the small sample of opinions collected during the fieldwork for the present study, it emerges that some police at least do tend to be somewhat intolerant of deviance from the norm' even when that deviance does not in itself constitute illegality as such.
And, without making unsubstantiated claims regarding individual cases of injustice, it is still possible to note the prevailing ideology of "normalisation" which informs the penal system itself, and which is so vividly illuminated by Foucault in Discipline and Punish. As observed by Patton (1979:132) of the modern penal system as a whole: "increasingly, its focus is on the individual, not on the crime and still less on those men and institutions charged with the exercise of the power to punish".
It is in relation to this focus on the individual and how he or she can be measured in terms of behavioural "norms" that subtler manifestations of micro-power' can be and are exercised by those in a position to do so. The exercise or non-exercise of police discretionary power in relation to Aborigines is therefore, as amply illustrated by McCorquodale, a case in point.
Perhaps the most comprehensive and revealing overview of black/white relations in the Southwest of Western Australia from the beginning of this century is contained in Dr. Anna Haebich's book For Their Own Good. Dr. Haebich's work dispels many of the persistent misconceptions with regard to Aboriginal people which could be said to motivate many of the counter-productive police strategies still frequently employed by them in respect to Aboriginal people.
An adviser to the Minister for Police to whom I spoke in 1983 (TR:1983) gave a brief, unofficial, and personal assessment of W.A. police ideology and its historical roots which in its overall conclusions was subsequently supported by sundry comments made by the police themselves in other contexts, as it was by subsequent opinions voiced by Aboriginal people.
The police are more of the attitude which I think probably goes back to the old days when police really were used as a sort of civil army. They were akin to an army of occupation and there's a kind of oral tradition handed down by police officers which enables this attitude to persist. They classify Aboriginals as lawbreakers. It is true that Aboriginals commit a lot of offences and that the police see them as lawbreakers. They tend to classify them as lawbreakers. It's also true that a lot of the offences Aboriginals commit are explicable in terms of differences in perception that is a cultural thing like for example the concept of the communal ownership of property. Perhaps it is a little inappropriate for us to say that our cultures are one - We determine the rules and if you don't live by them we crush you'. Basically they (the police) are autonomous, and probably more autonomous than most other departments under the control of ministers.
It seems that despite the fact that origins and causes of that early conflict may have been partly obscured in the memories of some, and consciously or unconsciously repressed in the memories of others, new causes continue to present themselves as legitimated fuel for the ongoing tensions and resentments on the part of the police. "No doubt" observes the author of the Western Australian Police Department In-Service Training Booklet in Aboriginal Police Relations (1983:29) "there are traditional attitudes left over from an earlier period when frontier conditions produced direct conflict between the two races, and this attitude, unfortunately, in some quarters, still remains with us".
Perth is not a large city by international standards, and an ever-increasing number of Aboriginal people reside there. It is still not in any way remarkable that a young recruit from one of its affluent suburbs should not nevertheless have met any Aboriginal people. A police officer lecturer on Aboriginal/Police Relations recounted how he was approached by one such young man after a talk he had given at the Police Academy. The latter observed that the only Aboriginal people he had ever seen had been on television. Further, he was having second thoughts about enlisting since learning that he was likely to be immediately and intimately involved with Aboriginal people in the course of his regular police duties. The officer in question had been endeavouring to explain some basic principles (TR:1983):
I told them there's no set way to handle an Aboriginal dispute because you've got to understand the background of the person you're talking to. If you go to a house and the people in the house are over 40 well unless you know the Aboriginal Acts and the Aboriginal history from Federation then you're not going to know the type of person you're talking to'.
The Aborigines Act 1905 (No.14:3) to which he referred proclaims, among other things, that the Chief Protector "shall be the legal guardian of every Aboriginal and half-caste child until such child attains the age of sixteen years to the exclusion of the rights of the mother of an illegitimate half-cast (sic) child". The ramifications of this pronouncement were amongst the many bitter memories which went to form the troubled background against which contemporary Aboriginal/Police relations are forced to exist. As observed by a Senior police officer, to whom I spoke (TR:1988):
... so if you come across a person in their forties or in ther fifties they're going to be a child which - in 90% of the cases - especially in Perth - and if they're very light skinned they're going to be a child which was affected by this Act. The Chief Protector would send out orders to the local police,the local constable would go out to the house - an Aboriginal house, or a humpy or whatever - and he'd look at the family and he'd say You're the mum and dad and you're white aha! half-caste - come with me'. And if the mother and father weren't there they'd just take them and they were called the round-up children'. They were put in a wagon or a cart or a police wagon and they were carted off and put in institutions. By the time they were 40 it's 1950 and they had children and all they had to tell them were stories passed down because they weren't allowed to go to school. Every time the kid went to school if there was any trouble in the school buy in the old Aboriginal - get rid of him - we don't want him in our school - kick him out'. So all the parents had to do was sit down and tell the children of their culture and the days of the round-up children'. The white kids would say I've got a grandmother - a grandfather'. the Aboriginal kid would go to his mother Eh mum where's your mother?' and then the story would come up. And they would tell their children and those are the stories brought up all through the years. And the parents relate the Chief Protector's assistant - the policeman - as the person who took them away.
Significantly, this officer has long been accepted as friend, as well as a policeman, by his Aboriginal informants, and it was essentially through such normal friendly interaction that he came to understand and be understood: "That's how I learned about them - from an Aboriginal person" (TR:1988).
Speaking of what he personally saw as the difficulties facing young policemen in their involvement in conflict situations with Aboriginal people he isolated what he saw for them as a double-edged disadvantage - their youth and their newly-acquired sense of pride in the power of their office. Aboriginal people have scant respect for young men compared with the respect in which they traditionally hold older men. When therefore young policemen in their efforts to restore order' expect their instructions to be complied with they are not always taken as seriously as they might expect. Their authoritarian reaction to this response triggers off even more adverse reactions, inevitably leading to an escalating conflict. This all too frequently results in the use of what is officially, while sometimes euphemistically, described as necessary force', all of which is now accompanied and followed by what is known in the jargon of popular psychology as uproar'. In the process it confirms the self-fulfilling prophecy' which has become so integral a part of a mythology shared by both Aboriginal people and police even if looked at from different perspectives.
These difficulties are frequently described in other contexts and their sources and causes sought. As noted by Inspector B J Brennan (1986:14):
The police over the years in areas and towns with Aboriginal communities have grown to accept that they are a source of trouble to them - a source which has been ongoing since the days of the first settlers.
Commenting on Aboriginal rates of imprisonment in 2 particular towns at particular times (Laverton and Roebourne, each of which town has in the comparatively recent past provided the setting for events involving Aboriginal/Police incidents drawing considerable and unfavourable attention to police behaviour) Brennan notes (p.14):
As far as being effective policing by maintaining an efficient arrest ratio, police in both towns excelled. However, the problem did not diminish, there were always Aboriginals to arrest. Their behaviour did not alter, nor did that of police. They expected each other to behave and react in the same manner. The results were quite predictable. An endless line up of Aboriginals before the courts. It is like a spiral which pulls all the antagonists towards an unsatisfactory end.
"The policing methods" Brennan noted, had not altered "to any large degree" in those one hundred and fifty years of "dealing with the Aboriginal".
It is clear from research and opinion that there has not been to date an effective policing of the Aboriginal community. For decades Police/Aboriginal relations have been fraught with mistrust, suspicion, racism and an over-involvement of do-gooders and academics all looking for a quick solution to the problem.(p 19)
During the course of my fieldwork the suggestion that young' police officers are less skilful in handling inter/race relations than their older colleagues was frequently made. The same observation was made in the Report of a Home Office Study on Racial Attacks in England (1981:21):
It was frequently suggested to us (by senior police officers as well as the ethnic minorities) that where the police fail to display sufficient sensitivity, it is usually younger officers who are at fault. ... It was frequently said to us that more should be done by senior officers to inculcate in their younger colleagues a better understanding of the problems they experience in their work.
It would be comforting to know that lack of maturity in policing was the underlying cause of such lack of sensitivity. More alarming, because more difficult either to isolate or to combat, would be the possibility that young Australians' attitudes towards Aboriginal people have been formed in part at least by a massively increased volume of negative (and equally significant absence of positive) media representation; manipulative political and multinational propaganda exercises; and indeed by the diligent efforts of extremist organisations. Unfortunately this question lies outside the parameters of the present study; it could well however prove to be a fruitful field of study in itself.
Matthew Foley (1984:161), in examining contemporary aspects of Aboriginal/Police relations considers the historical dimension in a comparison with the British model:
The modern police role in Australian society is similar to that in Britain, but its historical development is in sharp contrast. White Australian society grew out of the military administration of the original convict settlements. In the nineteenth century when the British Public was agonising over establishing the Peelers', Australian police officers on the pastoral frontiers were already carrying out duties which were so broad as to be paramilitary in scope. The bloody frontier war, which was waged throughout the nineteenth century, provided a background for a police role far removed from that of the village constable. ... The police force was often obliged to carry out the sort of duties performed by the U S army on the American frontier.
Susan Tod Woenne (1979:324-353), in a valuable overview, brought together under a single heading summaries of a number of commissions of inquiry into the Aboriginal problem' in Western Australia from 1884 to 1976. Woenne (1980:345) treats the documents "as bearers of information to the public rather than as advisory documents to a government", and concentrates on what each commission can be seen as communicating to the public' on a particular problem: "on its constituent elements, its implications, the pros and cons of possible solutions, and, above all, the reality of the problem' at all". While being critical of the manner in which the "true state of affairs" regarding Aboriginal people has been established and disseminated through the years, Woenne does see a positive development as having taken place in more recent times. She alludes particularly to the procedures and findings of the Laverton Joint Study Group (Joint Study Group 1975) and the Laverton Royal Commission (Laverton Royal Commission 1976), noting that they were different in scope, purpose, procedure and educative intent and were two of several inquiries and investigations into various aspects of the situation between Aborigines and non-Aborigines in late 1974 and early 1975.
As noted by Woenne (1980:345-347) allegations of misconduct by the police were made on behalf of the Aborigines which met with counter allegations by the police (LRC 1976:1) with the result that:
Investigations were made on behalf of the Governement of Western Australia by a stipendiary magistrate. Subsequently the same stipendiary magistrate led a study group appointed to examine the relationship between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal population and the police in Laverton in particular ...
The Joint Study Group Report was published (1975) and a number of its recommendations were eventually incorporated into those of the Commission:
The Joint Study Group was primarily an investigation; the Laverton Commission primarily an Inquiry. The two fit together within the context of public reaction to the events at Laverton, and the opposing views which existed concerning the educative function and value of the kind of body each was. The government essentially separated thefacts of the case' from assumed problems of cooperation and communication existing within the region.
The Study Group's investigation is of particular interest in that (1) it was seen to constitute direct and effective action by the government to resolve defined problems between Aborigines and non-Aborigines; (2) its membership represented a wide group of vested interests, including Aboriginal interest; and (3) the report was intended by the Study Group to be of educative value of a particular kind. Concerning this intention, it said (1975:10):
This report may appear to give undue emphasis to the Aboriginal population. This has been necessary because of the apparent widespread lack of understanding of their social structure, their culture and their life style. Without such understanding, racial disharmony is inevitable.
One of its assumptions, according to Woenne (1980:347), was that many problems existing between people in the Laverton area (and elsewhere) were based not only on lack (absence) of understanding, but also on misunderstanding - that is, on incorrect interpretations of what was happening.
Compared with previous investigations, such an approach is refreshing; and such an assumption, made explicit, directs attention toward situations of interaction between people, as against generalised assertions of types of behaviour based on naturally derived characteristics'.
The Joint Study Group was, according to its own report (1975:71) "struck by the recognition by many members of both races that ignorance in this regard is a major source of racial disharmony which often results in conflict, annoyance, intolerance and feelings of persecution and discrimination":
From the unsophisticated Aborigine's point of view, the will of the white community is imposed in an arbitrary manner to prevent his enjoying and participating in the fruits of the good life available to Europeans. Many aspects of European law, particularly those relating to property, alcohol and trespass (both to land and to the person), appear to him to have no relevance to everyday living and, in utilitarian terms, are as incomprehensible to him as his secrets' are to a Perth banker.
It has taken a long time, as Woenne observes (1980:352), for Aborigines to be regarded by a commission as positive contributors and participants in the wider society, "as opposed to a dying race, or a people in need of intensive care, thought of as a resource, or as potential Whites."
A paper delivered by Lynn Roberts, the then Secretary/Research Officer for the Special Cabinet Committee on Aboriginal/Police and Community Relations (SCC), to the Institute of Criminology Seminar in Canberrra 1985 outlined developments in Aboriginal/Police relations in Western Australia from the perspective of that committee. Roberts noted that the Special Cabinet Committee on Aboriginal/police relations had been set up at a crisis time' in Aboriginal/police relations but its original achievements were considered to have been minimal'. Set up by the government of the day, the Special Cabinet Committee was a means of demonstrating or at least of giving the impression that something is being done' while ensuring that the status quo was not endangered.
Its more recent regeneration and expansion however, according to Roberts, means that it is in a better position to reconcile that political something to be done' with real action'. The John Pat' case led to two Aboriginal/police relations summit conferences in 1984 as a result of which the SCC was restructured and subsequently played a major role in making sure that other summit recommendations were taken seriously. Prominent among the recommendations was the renaming and restructuring of the Cabinet Committee on police Aboriginal relations (it became the Special Cabinet Committee on Police/Aboriginal and Community Relations, thus broadening its focus to share accountability with the wider community for good race relations).
Roberts noted (1986:54) that the SCC provides "direct lines of access from the field to the Minister and Commissioner of Police" and "decision-making and action are not impeded by a heavy bureaucratic apparatus". With increasing support from the Police Department, the SCC, according to Roberts, "has started to function non politically ... new circumstances have dictated a move beyond the window-dressing role".
Perhaps the most significant of the recommendations was the one which addressed the need for improved educational content in police recruit training. The SCC, as well as playing an active and instrumental role in setting in motion the Aboriginal Police Aide review, also pushed for the restructuring of that aspect of police training dealing with Aboriginal/police relations. They negotiated with the Western Australian Institute of Technology for the latter to assume responsibility for the Aboriginal race relations education package'to be delivered, revised and maintained at the Police Academy at Maylands. They also saw it as their responsibility to keep the programme under constant review and to do their best to resist frequent efforts to reduce its relatively modest quota of periods to make way for what some police officers regard as more important subject matter. As noted above however, the Police Academy has resumed responsibility for education in this area and both its content and the percentage of training time allocation to it is under current review.
The Western Australian Police Department's In-Service Training Branch Booklet, and other texts of the same genre produced from time to time by members of the force, amply illustrates the ideological tensions underpinning an institution which endeavours at one level to treat everyone equally under the law and to discourage discrimination, and at another to recognise sociological and cultural areas of special need.
Both the dearth of reliable information and the need for improvement in relations is acknowledged in the booklet: (1983:19):
In contrast to studies of court and prison statistics, little systematic information has been compiled concerning relations between Aboriginals and police. Recent conferences, interviews conducted for this study, and several widely-publicised incidents, however, all seem to indicate that Aboriginal/Police relations are greatly in need of improvement.
"It is essential" the writer continues "that it be seen that there is no suggestion of any impropriety on the part of police in dealing with Aborigines, and that personal feelings neither motivate nor enter into police action."
Such a conjunction of topics as Aboriginal/Police relations being "greatly in need of improvement" and the warning about being motivated by "personal feelings" (without indicating whether those postulated feelings' are negative or positive) encapsulates the contradictions and ambiguities characteristic of, and inherent in, police perspectives and practices generally as they apply to Aboriginal people: contradictions and ambiguities which at the same time mirror and are derived from the contradictions and ambiguities present in the wider community in relation to black/white relations generally.
The booklet was prepared by Supt K Weaver (now retired) in conjunction with lectures to members attending the Recruit and In-Service Training Courses. Its description effectively locates the text as part of a larger text - a wider practice. The author speaks from a position at the interface of two separate if overlapping discursive formations: the legal and the academic. As such, therefore, his discourse is doubly legitimated. The rhetoric of the speaking voice within the text is such as to invoke not only an ongoing dialogue within both the particular frame' (police education) in which it is situated, but also a dynamic interaction with its readers in terms of a topic which by its very nature is open to varying and frequently conflicting interpretations and modes of inquiry.
Within that larger discursive formation of police and legal practice in relation to Aboriginal people the crux of the matter generally seems to be not only that it is constituted around a problem' which does not lend itself to resolution' but that the very irresolvability of the problem is regarded in itself as a problem at another remove. This second order problem' is perceived and addressed in two diametrically opposite ways. The proponents of the first approach argue that Aboriginal people (and urban Aboriginal people in particular) should be treated no differently, neither better nor worse, from other members of the community: the concept of equality' is vigorously invoked and any notion of positive discrimination equally vigorously opposed.
Gordon Hill, when Police Minister, articulated this position quite unequivocally in a television current affairs interview, September 11 1986, when in answer to the question on SBS Vox POPULI as to why, on reliable statistics, Aboriginal people are jailed twenty times more in Western Australia than White Australians are, he replied:
Well there are arrests because offences are being committed or alleged to have been committed and whether they have been committed or not is determined ultimately before the courts and so people cannot be treated differently in our society - we have the same law for everybody ... irrespective of colour or race it really doesn't come into it ... nobody is treated differently.
Repeated questioning by the interviewer failed to elicit any significantly different responses other than those which clearly identified policework as part of a larger discursive formation:
... Let me make it quite clear that my officers are not putting Aborigines in jail. It's the courts that do that and that's the legal system. ... If Aboriginal people are found guilty - as any individual in our society is found guilty of an offence then there are certain penalties associated with these offences and ... that's really the question for the Attorney General. The normal legal process is embarked upon and that's the case for everybody whether they be Aboriginal or European descent or whatever - that's the case.
The proponents of the second approach view Aboriginal people and Aboriginal/Police relations as indeed different from, and, for a variety of reasons, deserving of being treated differently from, others in the community. Such an approach is articulated in the training booklet; it is also reinforced in a paper by Inspector B.J. Brennan of the Maylands Police Academy who observes - "It can be seen how standard effective policing methods have little relationship to combating the Aboriginal problem". Neither of these commentators seeks an instant remedy. As observed by Brennan: (1986:2):
The search for an effective method of policing the Aboriginal community is an ongoing commitment ... The answer is not to be found in short-term cosmetic solutions, but requires careful long range planning. It is not a question of who is right and who is wrong or what have the blacks done to help themselves. The answer lies somewhere in mutual recognition and acceptance that a problem does exist and then a working together to solve it.
And, quoting an unnamed source as having said that the Aboriginal people "never had reason to regard the law as anything but an instrument of oppression", the training booklet (1983:29): was quite candid also regarding the Aboriginal person's present position: "some members of the Police Force do tend to look upon the Aboriginal as someone upon which to enforce the law of the land rather indiscriminately, without thought to the person as a human being in our society".
The following selected extracts from among comments made by a group of police officers following an in-service training session talk on Aboriginal/Police relations in 1983 at Warwick Police Station were equally candid, if in a somewhat different discursive form. The group, of about 25 officers, had been addressed by the then Head of the Aboriginal Housing Authority, Aboriginal Robert Isaacs, and had agreed to discuss the talk with me afterwards. Their comments included the following (TR:1983):
Police Officer No 5. "They (the Aboriginals) hate coppers. They just don't like coppers." Police Officer No 6."It's the drink - because when you get there everybody's full and the chance of you getting the message across or finding out what's happened is just hopeless." Police Officer No 7."They talk about land - why give it to them? Why can't they get out and buy land like we do?" Police Officer No 8."Why can't they be like everybody else? If any other race were to turn round and say we want, we want' well they'd be told to shut up, get back in their box if you want you get out and work for it and earn it like everybody else has to do it - all over the world'." Police Officer No 9."These fellas are downright lazy. There's no two ways about it ... they are just bone lazy ... the more we give them the more they damn well want." Police Officer No 10."I still try as much as possible to treat them as everyone else and from then on in they're on their own ... I think one of the biggest problems is like the cargo-cult mentality which I've noticed over the years. It appears to be getting worse ... with Aboriginals in general, in particular the fringedwellers ... even those living in populated areas ... and then not being prepared to accept the standards that go with the cargo. This I think creates a lot of resentment in police and probably others." Police Officer No 10."Also I do resent being the meat in the sandwich the fact that you are treated far worse than by any other member of the population - particularly by Aborigines." Police Officer No 16."If they want to live like the bushies - great - they can have their own law - do their own things - But you can't have the best of both worlds ... and until their mentality changes ... if you're going to accept the goodies that come out of a white man's society you've got to accept some of the responsibilities that go with it and until they do that I don't think you're going to improve communications between police and Aboriginals and anyone else and Aboriginals." Police Officer No 13"Everywhere they go it's a track ... and they just go through and the track widens as they go through and everybody along the edges get affected ... everyone. You ask anyone that lives within miles of them - a set radius of them and they are affected directly." Police Officer No 16."If anything they've got a chip on their shoulder and they're racially discriminatory towards the whites." Police Officer No 17."... The country is not today what it was two hundred years ago when certain areas was relieved from their possession." Police Officer No 21."Basically you're dealing with a species not as intelligent perhaps as like say other coloured persons ... something like that ... basically a lower form ... a lower type of person ... something like that."
Asked for suggestions as to how in the opinion of the group confrontations between police and Aboriginal people could be minimised or avoided the following were volunteered:
Police Officer No 13."Yes ... I can tell you ... As far as I'm concerned by them obeying the flamin law - then there wouldn't be any confrontation whatsoever." Police Officer No 18."If they got the chip off their shoulder that everyone was against them." Chorus of agreement:"That's right ...""Revoke the drinking rights ...""That's the biggest mistake we ever made ..." Police Officer No 2."I think the only way that relations between police and Aboriginals will improve is if they sort of don't come in conflict with us. The reason they come in contact with us is because they break the law. It's as simple as that." Police Officer No 23."Most of the whites that associate with them are the rubbishy society which doesn't make them ... it only drags them down further." Police Officer No 24."They hate the coppers because the coppers represent the law and the reason we're here is because they break the law - it's as simple as that. That's the way I see it anyway. Either they want to do it the whiteman's way - obey the rules - or they don't or they can go out in the bush and have the Aboriginal rule - the whole lot - but they can't have both." Police Officer No 25."These problems police officers have ... it would happen to you if because of your situation, you were constantly abused by one particular race ... you would start feeling antagonistic ... I treat a person as they treat me ..."
Interestingly, there were no dissenting voices raised against any of these and other similar propositions raised in the many comments made. That one talk, after which some questions were asked of the speaker regarding Aboriginal housing and tenancy problems, constituted the only Aboriginal/Police relations input in that particular course. As was explained to me at the time by one of the sergeants in charge:
Don't forget we have that many people to talk to us - we can't give anybody a longer session you know. These men are going to be here four weeks now and they'll be spoken to by something like forty people. You can't keep going on and on. You have to have a cut-off. At least it's a start - they're getting together to talk now - that's the main thing.
The following views were expressed in an interview with a senior police inspector with experience in the North West of Western Australia and seemed to be characteristic of the views held by his contemporaries with similar experience: (TR:1983):
The people of the Kimberleys and Carnarvon where I've just come from - blacks the same but they're a completely different poeple. I stick up for full bloods - but I won't have a bar of these that call themselves Aboriginals. The Kimberly full bloods - I'd go broke on them - but this mob down here - I have my own thoughts on them and they're very well imprinted. Probably since the Laverton Royal Commission the Police Department have been trying all out to try and better the talking relationship between the Aboriginals and the Police and they now have these courses - in-service training courses. Of late they've been trying but it's not all that can do it because even though I do say it myself - over the past - not just since Laverton but prior to Laverton, it was bred into the policemen in the schools ye know that all blackfellas were just nothing - and of course to get that out of the police force it's just going to take some time.
It would appear that in our Anglo-Saxon oriented passion for good order and with our ethnocentric inclination towards a sense of closure we can accommodate in our mythology both the notion of the "noble savage", who will remain remote from us for ever "out there" in the wilderness where we can forget him. We can also accept the notion of the "civilised" and acculturated black who is now "like us". It is towards the ever-increasing numbers of Aboriginal people who inhabit the less clearly defined yet dynamic and open-ended cultural terrritory in between however, where our so-called "values" are challenged, threatened, or even overturned, that we feel at risk. Perhaps we hope that by denying Aboriginal people their identity we can either disperse, destroy, or, eventually, assimilate them. Quite apart from considerations of a moral, philosophical, or political nature however this is simply not a reasonable or practicable goal - as Aboriginal people themselves will explain when eventually we stop to listen, as inevitably we must.
Comments by on-the-job sergeants in an interview with Radio Journalist Bill Bunbury for a current affairs programme (Background Briefing: 1985) included the following:
I don't see these people as being any different to anyone else. They might have their own set of problems which may be of tribal origin. Police officers are quite proficient in their own task in the aspect of law enforcement and I don't see the Aboriginal group as any different to any other group. They are still Australians.
The in-service Training Booklet however invited police students to see things somewhat differently (1983:27):
It is most unusual to speak to a 20-year-old male Aboriginal and learn that he has never faced a court of law charged with a criminal offence at some time during his life. The majority of young males in most the groups of tribes that have cropped up through their migration from their natural habitats appear to get involved in crimes which will subsequently result in their appearance in a court. The age group of 13 to 15 years is usually the time when they embark on their "crime spree", and many will continue this course through to their middle 20's. Others will have a brief skirmish with the law and retire from this antisocial behaviour.
Speaking of her unique' position in this country - Dr Roberta Sykes (Aboriginal, black, a woman and educated) who is according to her own definition "one of the lucky few', the Black educated elite'", observed (1985):
There is no chance that a Black person of my age in this country could be of privileged family - because this country allowed no privileged Black families. So there is no Black person of my generation, and very few of even recent times, who does not speak of poverty, persecution, ostracism and brutality as their own first-hand experience.
In recent years and increasingly, even if still only a very small number, Aboriginal constables (as well as Aboriginal Aides) are being admitted to the police force. Like Dr (Bobby) Sykes they see themselves as amongst the "lucky few" Aboriginal people who have through effort and favourable circumstances successfully negotiated for themselves a position of comparative equality in White society and, even more unusually, a position of relative power. What Constable X, an Aboriginal, (TR:1987) had to say of himself in this regard not only included aspects of this but also incorporated his perception of the signifying power of his cloak of office - the blue uniform.
Being in the position that I'm in as both a policeman and an Aborigine I have to rationalise both - otherwise I'd never be able to do both. I've got to be able to say to myself I am a policeman - I do this job because I like it - because I enjoy the job. Although I do have to sometimes sort of disregard the fact that I happen to be Aboriginal because there are times when one does interfere with the other and you have to tread carefully. Particularly, say, you've got a whole swag of warrants to serve on your cousins or something like that. You've got to go and see them and say Look you know - are you going to pay this or are you going to come with me' - the two do conflict from time to time. But most of them do tend basically to look at the uniform first and then maybe as just a secondary consideration they look at the person inside it.
Elaborating a little on what the police uniform means to an Aboriginal person he added:
Well, Aboriginals are great storytellers and we have an oral tradition of handing down stories from generation to generation. Unfortunately the clearest stories in our mind come from the last 150 years. It just happens to be that in the last 150 years we have been fairly powerfully dominated by a dark blue uniform - so you know there is quite a great deal of resentment there. The uniform represents to Aboriginals everything that's I suppose bad in the world. Even though it was at the instigation of a government that didn't particularly care about the Aboriginal people everything that happened to them was carried out by the police. And so, understandably, they see the uniform - they tread warily - and the uniform does mean a great deal.
The question could well be considered as to how much such metonymy applies in reverse: in other words, to what extent does the signifying quality of Aboriginal skin affect the perceptions of the police officer. Ethnomethodologist Harvey Sacks observes (1972:280): "For Western societies, at least, being noticeable and being deviant seem intimately related. The notions that one is suspect whose appearance is such that he stands out, and correlatively that the sinner can be seen, have the deepest of foundations." And, as noted by the Lucas Report: (LR:87):
An Aborigine walking the streets alone at night is much more likely to be stopped by patrolling police and questioned than is his white counterpart. Few police, we believe, would be proof against this. Appreciating that, as is the case in the community at large, a number of police have a real prejudice against the Aboriginal people, the inevitability of unfair and oppressive behaviour is seen.
And Aboriginal people are noticeably set apart from the rest of the commuity at the same time as recognition of their very Aboriginality is being in a very real sense denied to many by virtue of the fact that they are of part White descent, speak English, and live in the city. This too is one of the many paradoxes existing within a force where a White police officer (TR:1983) can say "you've got the Aboriginal people that call themselves Aboriginals and they're no more Aboriginal than you or I", and an Aboriginal constable who can say (TR:1987):
I've got more white blood than black in me but I've never been allowed to forget the fact that I have Aboriginal blood in me. So I've never really had the choice between black and white. And it's exactly the same with them - the young ones - out there in the street - the half-castes, the ones who are almost more white than black. They still cling very firmly to their Aboriginality because they have to.
Concerning his colleagues in the force the latter had this to say:
Well, basically, the younger ones tend to be ye know 'bloody niggers - they're all the same ye know - always cutting up', all of that. The older ones - some of them are a little bit that way inclined but others - when you stop and think - It's funny how a lot of them when you get them in the station - you're talking to them about this that and the other thing and they'll say 'I hate niggers - I hate em because they're always trouble'. But yet you get them out on the street and they get into a situation where Nyungars are involved they also become very cautious and very careful about how they treat them and so you know it seems that all the mouthing off is nothing more than bravado and it seems that they're quite prepared to be as tolerant of them as I myself am and I've seen this quite a few times. And Heaven forbid that they'd ever admit that they sort of treated an Aboriginal with respect y'know - Lord knows, that's just not on! But it's happening more and more. I see it more and more nowadays and I guess it's lucky for me because I've had the opportunity to work with quite a few really good policemen and I've had a good education - a good background - a very solid grounding in police work. And being Aboriginal sort of naturally I have that extra bit of insight as well so it's no problem for me and I like to think that a lot of my insight has rubbed off on a few of the guys that I've worked with. The longer they stay in my company they do seem to improve - but whether that's out of respect for me or whether it's because they're becoming a better policeman I don't know. Hopefully it's the latter.
When it comes to the vexed question of interrogation however (a subject which has given rise to considerable controversy, as the available literature clearly shows) those qualities of tolerance and insight are appropriated and subsumed by the discursive formation of the law itself. And, whether in the final analysis they can be said to operate in favour of the subject, or whether they function in the interests of preserving the status quo remains a debatable issue.
I raised this question with the same constable (the interview situation between policeman and suspect and the discursive requirements of practices which required of the resultant signed or record of interview that it fit a recognisable formula), asking whether this could disadvantage the Aboriginal person concerned, and how it could come about. The answer was frank and honest:
Yeh, that's possibly the case, and I think it's probably due to the - you could probably put it down to the lack of communication skills amongst Aborigines but also I think because of the differences between Aborigine and the white man. What I mean is the different attitudes for a start. I think basically because most of Aboriginal education is person to person and is very much through the spoken word. You can always talk to them and they'll always talk back to you because that's part of their upbringing. I'm saying that it's probably a damn sight easier to get what you want to hear out of an Aborigine than it is out of a white person of the same sort of vintage and background.
Asked whether he was saying it was something of a walkover' with Aborigines compared with Whites, his reply was equally honest:
Unfortunately yeh - that's true. It's probably why a lot more of them end up in court than a lot of white people. Because of the differences in communication - and they really are vast. It's unbelievable sometimes - you sit down and talk to a white kid and he'll just say Look I'm not saying nothing to you - you're a cop - goodnight' sort of thing - I don't want to talk to you'. And if they don't want to talk to you they won't. Whereas with the Nyungar - basically, if the Nyungar likes talking, and most of them usually do, you can talk to them about anything. You can talk them around in circles basically until you've heard what you want to hear. It's unfortunate but it's true. They just happen to be very vulnerable on that score because they happen to like talking. And unfortunately it seems that all the good policemen have developed the knack to being able to pick up on what someone likes - talk about it - and eventually, talk to them long enough and hard enough and gather all the information you want.
There are, of course, no restrictions upon conversations between police officers and suspects. As was noted in the Lucas Report: (LR:67):
Subject to the requirements of the general law, they may talk about what and how they like. It is only when a stage is reached where incriminatory material is said to come or to have come from the mouth of the suspect that the situation changes. It is then that rules have to be followed which rules are designed to ensure the careful collection and the preservation of material that now, unlike what has gone before, amounts to evidence. The insistence that rules be followed at this stage involves no departure from established jurisprudence.
How police, generally, feel about the notion of self-incrimination' and about the code of ethical and judicial practice embodied in The Judges' Rules, might well provide a key towards understanding some of the problematics involved in their task and responsibility as investigators. As noted by Alderson with regard to British police (1979:18):
Many senior police officers feel that in a sense there is a conflict between the common-law duty of persons to assist in the maintenance of law and order, and what amounts to formal requirements to invite suspected citizens not to to assist the police with their enquiries.
Alderson (1979:24) makes a clear distinction however between a reactionary point of view which holds that the law is explicit - "if human conduct contravenes the law, then it should be made the subject of legal process" (corresponding to the first of the two approaches described earlier) and a view which holds that policing means an assertion of both moral and physical law which requires of police that they acquire knowledge of the condition of the policed in order that a better understanding of their behaviour may be acquired.
The former position would argue that it is not for the police to enter into value judgements and sophisticated philosophical notions, "but merely to enforce the law without consideration emotion or other human sentiments". This, according to Alderson, "is a barren, unimaginative approach which can bring both law and police system into disrepute and fails to exploit the potential of the law for soothing rather than irritating social maladies".
Official or semi-official views of what the template of behaviour for police officers in their encounters with Aboriginal people should be are judiciously foregrounded in the Western Australian training booklet. In addition, it admirably sets up a large number of topics having a direct or indirect bearing on the current situation in regard to those encounters and to relations generally. The question is not narrowly dealt with but boldly embraces a motley of discourses including historical, anthropological, sociological, cultural, linguistic, philosophical, as well as legal and criminological. It even includes geographical comparisons between Australia and other countries in the world who have had to deal with, or are currently dealing with, the difficulties inhering in mediation between indigenous and imported systems of law. That it contains some observable contradictions and ambiguities is neither surprising, given the complexity of the undertaking, nor does it take away from its overall merit. With, or perhaps even because of, such contradictions, it could be described as a counsel of perfection which if adhered to could make a significant contribution towards, if it did not absolutely solve, some of the acknowledged difficulties in Aboriginal/Police relations.
It could probably be argued that the discourse of prejudice therefore is subjected to pressures from above' by means of such texts as the training booklet, the Brennan paper and others of the same genre; and from below' through the mediation of Aboriginal police officers and Police Aides. This could merely, however, in the nature of things, be expected to lead to partial modifications only while leaving the attitudes of the majority (and the majority of the attitudes) unchanged.
Habermas, (1980:62-80) in his essay "The Scientisation of Politics and Public Opinion" contrasts what he refers to as a "pragmatistic model" of the administration of industrial society (which would endeavour to incorporate the people's political will') with those other models which "deprive any democratic decision-making process of its object" (models, in other words, which are more positivistic in their separation of theory and practice and which are congruent with Weber's thesis of the neutrality of sciences). He acknowledges the obvious difficulties of the model however, in that it does not fully account for that necessary mediation between science and politics which would facilitate open discussion between the experts (at the level of technical' knowledge) and the citizenry' (who constitute, in the final analysis the political will). The enlightenment of this political will, according to Habermas "can become effective only with the communication of citizens". The path to this enlightenment is seen by him as proceeding according to rationally-binding discussion "from the horizon of communicating citizens themselves and (leading) back to it". The consultants' "are subject to the hermeneutic constraint of participating in the historical self-understanding of a social group - in the last analysis, in the conversations of citizens".
He sees on the one hand the necessity of employing the social sciences to analyse this self-understanding in connection with social interests, and on the other of ascertaining available techniques and strategies. But he adds (1980:75):
The result of these steps, as the enlightenment of political will, can become effective only with the communication of citizens. For the articulation of needs in accordance with technical knowledge can be ratified exclusively in the consciousness of the political actors themselves. Experts cannot delegate to themselves this act of confirmation from those who have to acccount with their life histories for new interpretations of social needs and for accepted means of mastering problematic situations.(p 75)
Habermas deplores what he calls "the depoliticisation of the mass of the population" and "the bureaucratised exercise of power" which, he feels, tends to exclude practical questions from public discussion in what he refers to as "a mediatised population".
Hazlehurst (1987:272) argues somewhat similarly:
In Australia there is still a very narrow strip of middle ground between the indigenous and dominant cultures. Sociocultural and political brokerage is poorly developed and usually violently resisted. Without the development of middle-ground mechanisms for consultation, mediation and exchange, race relations will continue to be strained and hostile.
"While our hands are occupied with throwing stones at each other" observes Hazlehurst "we cannot be building bridges."
Alderson (1979:135) cites recent research by Sparks, Glenn and Dodd (Surveying Victims) suggesting that only some 10 to 15 per cent of the bulk of crime committed comes to notice and the clean-up' rate is considerably less. These figures, Alderson suggests:
seriously undermine the philosophy that pins its faith in enforcement as the sine qua non of crime control. Furthermore, the cost of dealing with only a small proportion of offenders is high ,when it is realised that the entire system of courts, penal, reformative and rehabilitative agencies is brought to bear on them.
Alderson holds very strongly to the view that in any society which is not in itself a universally authoritarian one authoritarian or reactive policing is bound to fail. Instead he advocates what he calls "primary prevention" or "proactive policing" as being an infinitely more rational and productive course of action for police. As he observes (1979:39):
Proactive policing describes any form of human activity which results in a diminution of conduct forbidden by the criminal law. It embraces activities to penetrate the community in a multitude of ways in order to influence its behaviour away from illegality and towards legality. Unlike its counterparts, preventive and reactive policing, its style envisages a more persuasive effect, for it involves carrying anticipatory initiatives into practice to head off criminality.
Alderson speaks (1979:42) of "the trap currently being set by the growth of police technology" which he sees as being more likely to lead to a reactionary response by police. While it will always be crucial that police be in a position to respond immediately to crisis situations - and technological advances have, admittedly, contributed considerably not only to their capacity to do this but also to police the world of technology itself, Alderson does nevertheless sound a warning note. He sees the situation as containing the seeds of many problems for the police:
Loss of human contact, knowledge and understanding, the very essence of democratic police, is too high a price to pay for technology.
A superior democratic police knows, according to Alderson (1979:42) that "the essence of policing lies in human care, understanding and education, resulting in a deep attachment of police to public and vice versa. Getting this wrong can have deleterious effects on policy":
In their necessarily authoritarian role as controllers of public order it is likely that the police will have greater confidence and feel less threatened by public hostlity, and the people, on their part, will view the police in their total role with greater understanding and sympathy if the police have opportunities on a day-to-day basis to be guide, philosopher and friend. This is of crucial importance where policing of nervous minorities renders purely reactive policing quite dangerous.
A similar philosophy is painstakingly and thoroughly explored by Kayleen Hazlehurst (1987:241-274) in her analysis of the structure and process of Australian criminal justice in its implications for race relations. Hazlehurst (1987:248) observes:
In many parts of the country what exists is a stark power structure, which institutionalises Euro-Australian authority over Aboriginals, and which entrenches the brooding sense of Aboriginal helplessness.
Hazlehurst does not however by any means see the responsibility for this as lying solely with the police and quotes a letter from the secretary of the Police Federation of Australia and New Zealand, Chief Inspector Tom Rippon to Clyde Holding - then Commonwealth Minister for Aboriginal Affairs on 14 July 1984 - illustrating what he called the "difficulties" police were having in performing their duties among Aboriginal people. The list of problems summarised those brought by police delelgates from throughout Western Australia to a state conference on 10 June 1984, organised by the Police Federation of Australia and New Zealand at the request of their affiliated body, the Western Australia Police Union of Employees.
Hazlehurst (1987:243) reports Inspector Rippon as saying "The whole conference (in Western Australia) seemed to reflect an air of desperation at the direction the total Aboriginal situation was taking".
Hazlehurst (1987:243-244) deplored both the lack of immediacy with which the content of such a serious and important plea for consideration and action was treated in the official reply from the Minister three months later, combined with his inability to attend the annual conference of the Police Federation to be held in September. The reply itself, noted Hazlehurst, though "correct, formally", was "an unconstructive response when something more imaginative was clearly called for". She quoted from comments made by police delegates themselves to the conference the following observation that:
... no training of police in Aboriginal relations was given to country police officers, and that the skills acquired were obtained on a trial and error basis, and further, that this was a highly undesirable way of operating a police organisation.
That the comment was made by police officers themselves was, Hazlehurst (p.243) considered, "a significant step forward in police/Aboriginal relations". Australian police, she says, especially the younger generation, are now recognising and feeling that they are ill equipped to deal with the difficulties of inter-racial policing without special training.
In her exploration of community-based options Hazlehurst proceeds along lines similar to those outlined by John Alderson in his analysis of the role of the police in modern Western society. The particular value of Hazlehurst's model is that she does so with particular reference to Aboriginal/Police relations in Australia and that in doing so she draws richly on the findings and observations of other eminent legal scholars, anthropologists and sociologists in the Australian, including the Western Australian, field.
These arguments bear persuasively on the whole question of Aboriginal/Police relations and on the two approaches contrasted above. Interestingly, and significantly, in the area of the law itself (reactionary though it might well appear in many of its institutional aspects) the ongoing practice of the Law Reform Commission stands as a workable model which is at least moving in the directions of the ideals of communication espoused by Habermas and might well be emulated in the former area.
For it has become abundantly clear that Aboriginal people can no longer be excluded from discussions and interpretations of their social needs and political rights. Nor is it indeed any longer appropriate to leave it to theorists in any discipline to articulate such propositions on their behalf, for they are speaking out themselves and rightly demanding to be heard.
Ultimately an important question has to be honestly confronted: that is whether the aim in achieving better communication between Aborigines and Police and Police and Aborigines is to be seen as more effective policing' in the sense of detection and conviction of criminals, or as achieving a more constructive level of dialogic interaction designed to lead to a more peaceful, cooperative, and mutually-enriching coexistence. Since there is such a wide gap between the incidence of criminal actions and the detection of the offender it is not unreasonable to suggest that efforts in the latter area would be, politically as well as morally, the sane approach.
Attitudes reflected in the comments of the police officers reported above, while perhaps reinforced by the experiences contingent upon the particular nature of their occupation, are nevertheless not peculiar to that occupation but are attitudes prevalent in the broader community generally and carried over into the force by its members. Given however the generally acknowledged consensus that racism (whether it be considered as a moral or political evil) motivates some of the ugliest of human crimes and can be said to be the root cause of many if not most of the world's current traumas it is strange that we should accept this with such quiescence as a natural and unavoidable given'. There are many other undesirable personality traits or criminal tendencies endemic in the community at large which would yet be considered quite unacceptable in a member of the police force and rightly so. Indeed a criminal record of offences involving any such traits or tendencies would be a very real obstacle to joining the force in the first place. Racism however, despite the fact that it can in extreme cases reach epidemic proportions and give rise to crimes against humanity of considerable magnitude, hardly rates a mention. No screening exists which favours non-racist recruits into the force and the question of existing racism within the force (while occasionally acknowledged and deplored) does not appear to be seen as a matter requiring or accorded top priority for remedial action, at least up to this point in time.
The Report of the Police Training Council Working Party on Community and Race Relations Training for the Police (published by the Home Office in England in February 1983) among many other comments and recommendations expressed concern that community and race relations, alone of all the subjects taken on the initial course at Home Office regional centres and often in later in-force training, remained unexamined. In the view of the working party (1983:19):
the requirement to pass an examination or the knowledge that they will be assessed, is, in our view bound to affect the seriousness with which officers approach the topics in which they receive training and will be taken as a reflection of the importance that the police service attaches to excellence in these areas.
In addition to the notion of personal discrimination, the working party focussed its attention on the concept of "institutional racism", and recommended that:
To develop their understanding of how any institutional racism in the police service can be identified, and tackled, they (Inspectors and Chief Inspectors) will require training in addition to that designed to overcome personal discrimination.
The precise extent to which aspects of "institutional racism" can be said to be present in the W.A. police force can, clearly, best be determined, explored in depth, and treated by, and from within, the force itself. An important and crucial component for the potential success of such an enterprise however, as noted above, is that it should be included for assessment on an equal footing with other important aspects of a police officer's training.
One aspect of the dilemma experienced by police officers in the course of their duties is determined by their being at one level enjoined (TB:30) that they should "make no direct differentiation between their relationships with Aborigines and their relationship with other minority groups in the community in the fulfilment of their given task", and at another level by being reminded of that very difference, as noted in the training booklet (TB:26):
Generally speaking, the white community tends to look on the Aboriginal as just a wayward white man who happens to be black. We forget his past which is so very recent. ... This attitude has produced tensions on both sides and has created an atmosphere which makes a difficult situation seem to be well-nigh impossible.
As a result, it would seem inevitable that any biases or constraints, if and where they do exist, will be translated by the police officer into the discourse which s/he employs in the execution of what s/he sees to be his or her duty. And when, as observed by Sykes (1985:25) "the machinery of legal discrimination and oppression has been in place for so long ... that those who have inherited the system no longer know how each piece works, and are baffled by which bit causes which result", it is not surprising that practices which by objective standards of natural justice' would be unacceptable continue as a matter of course simply in the order of things. And it goes without saying that police practices as they relate to Aborigines have more far-reaching effects upon them than do the effects of the many other day-to-day incidents to which they are exposed and vulnerable in our society by virtue of the colour of their skin alone. Advice in the police booklet (TB:31) urges police officers in their respective areas to get to know the Aboriginal people: "an Aboriginal places a lot of importance on the fact that he knows a person, and that he can approach that person for advice with the understanding that he will receive a favourable hearing" Nevertheless, the writer is clearly aware that the concept of "getting to know" Aboriginal people may be problematic, and adds: "I have heard it said that if you associate with Aborigines ... you are something of an odd-bod' but ... a good relationship with the Aborigines can make your job a lot easier, less arduous and less embarrassing".
Quite apart from any particularised or circumstantial characteristics, any such manifestations of the double bind inherent in policing Aboriginal people are in themselves inevitable and predictable offshoots of the problematical nature of policing in general, given its unresolvable tensions between hierarchical rank on the one hand and individual responsibility on the other. The autonomy extended to individuals is clearly outlined in the W A training booklet in Aboriginal/Police Relations available to members of the W.A. police force (TB:29):
Your status as a constable is unique and is in some ways autonomous. In fact, a constable's status is established beyond a doubt; he is neither a servant nor an agent of any authority, local or central; his powers are original and not delegated; he exercises his power by virtue of his own office, on his own authority, and at his own discretion. He is unique among subordinates in the nature and degree of responsibility he is required to exercise. In other words, the constable alone is responsible for his actions at law, and he should be conscious of this unique authority. It is unlike any other type of employment one can envisage.
Irene Wilson (1981:127) argues that the British style of policing, with its amalgam of hierarchical elements (such as rank structure) and egalitarian elements (such as the large measure of responsibility that an individual officer has), has undoubted strengths but also implies a "precarious balance": "These two strands have always existed, sometimes in conflict, sometimes co-existing quite neatly". It is no different today according to Wilson (1981:124) when police often accept both the idea of commuity involvement and the idea of increased assertiveness in the way they do certain parts of their job: "They claim they would be much happier with one consistent philosophy yet this would change them and us irrevocably since no other institution in society is any more consistent".
Wilson suggests in fact that since it is characteristic of many facets of British political life that contradictory elements co-exist simultaneously, often taking a long time to achieve final balance, such an eclectic society must needs deserve an eclectic system of policing and this she claims is how the British system has evolved to what it is. Since there are observable similarities between them it seems reasonable to compare both the British system of policing, and British political life, with our own and to say with Wilson that an informed awareness of political ideas and methods is of crucial importance for our police force also. It might, says Wilson, be a reassurance to the police to have an understanding of the confusing, unresolved problems of political life.
For politics notes Wilson (1981:124) is, after all, "human interaction":
embodying not only the conflicts between persons and groups but also the achievement of co-operation between them. It may be small-scale, between two individuals, or encompass relationships the outcome of which can affect the whole planet. The first stage of political education must be to convince people that they have been political all their lives.
It matters for all citizens to be well informed and rational in their political judgements, "yet it is even more important for police officers because of the intimacy of their relationship with the law, with politically sensitive issues, and with power".
Power' says Wilson (1981:124) is usually described as "the practical manifestation of politics" and, according to her findings, is the issue that policemen find most stimulating when confronted with the necessity of thinking politically.
A study or assessment of power interests them because it is practical. Policemen lay great stress on pragmatism, applauding practicality and practicability above almost everything.
This, she suggests, could be related to many factors but most probably the result of the nature of their job.
The policeman is well equipped to understand and exercise power since it is an essential element of his occupational role; he learns that it is both a proper and appropriate part of his dealings with the public.
Yet achieving a just balance between this proper and appropriate exercise of power and the protection of the rights of the individual or group with which the police officer is both practically and politically involved calls for a fine degree of perception, skill and self-discipline on his or her part. In fact the hands-on' aspect of arresting a suspect can give a prominence to the purely physical dimension of the exercise of legitimated power, which can sometimes overshadow its concomitant legal and moral dimension of responsibility, for the agent involved. An individual whose professional role exacts such a demanding performance clearly is entitled to a training which adequately fits him or her for that role.
If faulty perceptions are to be changed and positive ones encouraged it seems likely that the opportunity to do so will lie both at the level of knowledge and of action - in keeping with Paulo Freire's notion of praxis' (1976:133) when he claims that -
... the transformation of perception is not brought about at a purely intellectual level, but with the aid of a genuine praxis which requires a constant action on reality, and a reflection on this action. This implies a sound manner of thinking and acting. Hence ... large-scale, intensive cultural spade-work is absolutely indispensable for this conception.
It goes without saying,, of course, that involvement in any such "cultural spadework", if it is to be at all effective, needs to be undertaken on both sides of the cultural divide. And, to be fair to the Western Australian police force, many of the current community-based inter-racial projects which they have initiated and are continuing to support, have demonstrated their awareness of and commitment to this very important aspect of their role.
The good policeman, like the good teacher, is frequently promoted to a level at which there is more involvement with administration, government departments, and bureaucracy generally, and less either with police in the field or day-to-day contact with young recruits or police of a lesser rank. Consequently, much valuable skill, expertise, and wisdom born of experience, remains a valuable but untapped resource to be lost when that policeman retires (as many do at a comparatively early age).
Some are prepared, while not being in any way dismissive of their profession, to be critical of those among their number who fail to live up to their oath of office. Policing Aborigines is a hard job they say. A senior member of the force to whom I spoke (TR:1986) observed:
When they have fights it's not just fisticuffs - you get sticks and bottles and stones and knives ... You have a name fighting another name and that will go on for years and years and years. ... That's how I see how the police and the Aborigines are at loggerheads or were at loggerheads. (This particular officer feels that, for a number of reasons, some of them political, things have improved a little.) It's the calls for help from one family to another. It's just consistent - and you get out there and you get your shirt covered in blood - you get a stone or a stick or a bottle flung at you because they're all half drunk - and yet those same fellows when they're sober you couldn't get a nicer crowd.
He did not however see this as any excuse for some of the attitudes with which he was, regrettably, only too familiar:
... When I think of the ratbags I had to work under and these poor innocent men (Aborigines) that people trample on for nothing. If they (the Aborigines) do a wrong, they do a wrong and we try and rectify it but - not to just to put willy nilly charges on them just because ... as though it doesn't matter: Yeh I'll fix him - yeh he'll get six months' jail out of that - out of our hair for a while' ye know - that sort of thing ... They're bandits those fellows (police who stoop to such practices) truly they're absolute bandits.
The same senior-ranking officer, a man of over thirty years' experience in the force, much of that time as a police prosecutor, agreed with the often-voiced contention that Aborigines are easy to manipulate into making statements which may incriminate them:
Yes, it's quite so; you could speak to an Aborigine; If you talk to them about anything; You could put suggestions to him and he just goes along. As a prosecutor I know. I suggest things to them when I'm prosecuting. I suggest things to them and they go along with it. It worries me then because - what are you going to make of their statements if they do that sort of thing. They do - you could make a suggestion - they'll go along with it. You say - Why did you take it?' Ah well ye know - just a little piece of meat - I was hungry' and in fact he might not have even been there. It's very difficult - very difficult to handle that.
As regards the unsigned statement or verbal' the same officer was equally concerned:
When you submit a statement of course that's unsigned it bears on its credibility - nothing else. I've had plenty of allegations when these statements - even signed statements - when they're read out - they (the Aboriginal accused) completely deny it and say Look - no - it's been twisted - I didn't say that at all - I said this". Of course sometimes you can tell me something and I can write it down and completely mean different to what you say, and I think that's where we have the problem. Yes - I have my own opinions on that as a prosecutor. If I ever suspected that I would immediately stop pressing evidence. It wouldn't be right for me as a prosecutor, unless it's blatant, to abandon my case, but I will abandon my cross examination or my evidence in chief, or re-examination, if I suspected that this was done. I wouldn't handle that and I never have. I have certainly had my opinions on it the times that I was a prosecutor and every time that this has happened I just don't push my case. And when you get to do court work your attitude is well known by the bench and they know if I go cold on something. They know it and they suspect that I suspect something and of course they give the benefit of the doubt and that's how it should be but certainly we can't say that we are one hundred percent - the police I'm talking about - one hundred per cent in the clear when it comes to this sort of thing. Certainly I would agree that it's a problem.
Looked at from an Aboriginal viewpoint, as will be done in some more detail in a later section, the matter of verbals and statements, signed or otherwise, are, as might be expected, looked at from a different perspective. It seems appropriate here however to present a not untypical perception by an Aborigine who has had both personal and vicarious folk experience of encounters with police in the situations referred to above (TR:1985):
The one thing that's in the Aboriginal's mind when he's arrested and when he's in that room is - I better answer this dominating person's questions properly otherwise I'm going to get a bash in the mouth'. That's the Aboriginal person or persons who's been questioned in that police station or police office - room or whatever. Yes - it's passed on - Aboriginal people will always think along these lines because they know that the law that's in existence today doesn't hold too much water where the Aboriginal person is concerned because through their passing on through their generations they know that the ten Commandments has been broken in the beginning and is still being broken now although its behind closed doors by the lawkeepers themselves and the white people that's governing the country. And that is the one thing that scares an Aboriginal person or persons it's that threat of violence: "If you don't talk straight to me - did you steal that car? - I'm going to thump you in the mouth". What are the choices? Is the Aboriginal person - be it teenager or adult sitting there - what's he going to do? Is he going to say - No I didn't do this and that' because even if he didn't do it, even if he did do it, just he'll still say it. But no person should be allowed to have that sort of thing done to them - this violent threats. I get sick and tired of hearing my sons and other people telling me.
The significant difference between the concern in the police officer's narrative and the anger in the Aboriginal narrative is that the concern expressed by the former isolates the individual policeman as a wrongdoer and an aberration in the force while the anger expressed by the latter has a fairly clearly-defined political implication in that it conflates police, White people, lawkeepers, and government as the single if manyheaded perpetrator of continuing injustice.
Following the publication in November 1981 in Britain of two reports (the one - Lord Scarman's inquiry into the disorders in Brixton in April 1981; the other - a Home Office study of the incidence of racial attacks and the activities of extremist organisations alleged to be responsible for them) a Police Training Council Working Party on Community and Race Relations Training For The Police was appointed by the Police Training Council in January 1982: Its task was (1982:1):
To review the community relations training given to the police, with particular reference to race relations training as mentioned in Lord Scarman's Report and taking account of the Home Secretary's Foreword to the report of the Racial Attacks study and to make recommendations.
As noted in the introduction to that Working Party's report their work proceeded in parallel with that of a quite separate Working Party appointed by the Police Training Council to examine the training given to probationer constables, and of reviews also being carried out under the aegis of that Council, of training in the handling of public disorder and of supervision and management training.
While allowing that "some minor adjustments" to what the party proposed might prove necessary, they firmly believed "that the principles and practice that they recommended should inform community and race relations training throughout the service and (would) be essential to its success".
While the party was firmly of the opinion that community and race relations training should go hand in hand (a) since the requirements of good community relations are also the requirements of good race relations, and (b) since separating them would give validity to the notion that minority ethnic communities constitute a "problem" group for the police, or are specially favoured (2.3), nevertheless they considered it extremely important that race relations should be "accorded the special attention it deserves" (2.4) since racial and cultural differences "can introduce complexities of a special nature and order into encounters between individuals and groups". They were "concerned that those additional complexities should not be forgotten and that race relations should not be dealt with simply as a species of human relations". To ensure that race relations were given due weight they recommended that some time should be set aside in programmes devoted to community relations for instructions focussed specifically on race relations. Most importantly, they insisted that -
The general principle should ... be that the needs of officers for training determine the time to be made available and not an arbitrary time allocated within which what is possible is fitted. (2.4)
On the equally important question as to whether training should seek to influence attitudes or behaviour, writers of the report made their position very clear:
It is often assumed that race relations training should aim to ensure that the attitudes of individuals towards persons of a different race are tolerant and sympathetic. Others feel it is unsound, and can be counterproductive, to seek to modify attitudes and that the focus of training should be on the overt behaviour desired. (2.5) In our view it is misleading to suggest that these two strategies are incompatible and we recommend that both should have a place in future training programmes. So far as race relations are concerned attitudes are in an important sense at the heart of the matter. But attitude training will, we believe, only be of value to the police service if it goes together with the teaching of effective policing skills. (2.6)
It seemed to the Working Party that while in the final analysis what matters most to members of the public is that they should be treated in a correct and professional manner, it did not seem wise' "to rely entirely on the capacity of the well trained' officer to mask his private attitudes". Their clearly expressed fear was that it was "precisely under conditions of stress, and in circumstances where the benefits of adequate training are most needed, that unacceptable attitudes are likely to emerge" (2.6).
The Report is exhaustive, covering all aspects of training, and making particularly detailed recommendations regarding aspects of community and race relations. The more important conclusions of the report are sidelined in the margin, one of which emphasises the view that neither race nor community relations are discrete subjects on a par with, say, traffic -
They are aspects of all police work, and teaching in them cannot in principle therefore be wholly divorced from training in other topics. Some time must it is clear, be devoted specifically to race and community relations; but to be fully effective all training in the police service must endeavour not just to teach the specific skills that are required for the effective discharge of the officers' duties in a particular area but also to draw out and reinforce those aspects of these skills which are of particular relevance and importance for community relations. (4.5)
What the Report noted as "the most serious defect" in the content of existing training was that for the most part it consisted simply of "information". There is, it points out, "a particular danger in respect of minority groups that information alone may contribute to stereotyping". (4.10)
Allowing for some different circumstances, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that a good deal of what the Report contains is as applicable in W A as it is in England. Further, the recommendations it makes (since, by and large, they do not contain anything which would seem at odds either with the principles expounded in the W.A. Training Booklet, or with the conclusions arrived at independently by so many authorities) seem equally apposite and well worth exploring, if not considering as a model.
The criticism outlined by the Home Office Report regarding existing training, with its emphasis on "information" inevitably raises the central question of learning and of change. "Knowledge" says Paolo Freire "is not extended from those who consider that they know to those who consider that they do not know. Knowledge is built up in the relations between human beings and the world, relations of transformation, and perfects itself in the critical problematisation of these relations."
A cautious and reactionary fear of critical problematisation', of rocking the boat', could continue to retard efforts to overcome acknowledged problems of understanding and communication between police and Aboriginal people. Justice Muirhead was, clearly, conscious of this when he said in his recommendations for training (IR:4) - "An interesting and informative chat is not what I have in mind". Noting that inadequate time had heretofore been allocated to such aspects of training (one to three hours in a probationary course of six to eight weeks) the Commissioner insisted in his recommendations that Departments need to review their training programmes to include much more time and real incentive in this area.
Introducing the interesting concept that education is, above all, the "practice of freedom", Freire stresses the liberating rather than the constraining nature of learning (a notion which if applied to the transformation of racist attitudes would see this as a liberating rather than a coercive experience).
Freire's philosophy of learning does not assume a hierachy of minus knowledge to plus knowledge but rather a dialogic collaboration by both educator and educatee in a seeking experiment. As he says (1974:123):
The role of the educator is not to "fill" the educatee with "knowledge", technical or otherwise. It is rather to attempt to move towards a new way of thinking in both educator and educatee, through the dialogical relationships between both. The flow is in both directions.
Nor does he necessarily assume in the educatees a readiness to fill the role of responsive cooperative partners in the learning activity he recommends; rather does the act of knowing and learning according to him require of people "an impatient, unquiet indocile attitude". It requires a seeking' he says, (1974:116) which, inasmuch as it is a seeking, cannot be reconciled with the static attitude of one who merely acts as the depository of the contents delivered by another. And to reject problem-posing dialogue at any level is, according to Freire, (p.125) "to maintain an unjustifiable pessimism towards human beings and to life. It is to lapse back into the practice of depositing false knowledge which anaesthetises the critical spirit".(p 125)
And a lively spirit is required of police officers in their challenging role at the razor's edge of race relations in this country if they are to engage seriously with the idea that they must learn from Aborigines how to communicate with Aborigines in order to be both honest and successful in their policing role. The problematisation of the notion of "education" in "race relations" (a notion which by definition seems to imply the existence of those who "know" against those who "don't know") raises the fundamental question as to whether racism can be said (even in Aboriginal/police contact) to be confined exclusively to Whites, or indeed as to the extent of transformation which needs to be effected on both sides. Freire would say that the educator also needs to be involved - one "who goes into the process of transformation ... as a Subject with other Subjects"; learning and teaching in other words are as inseparable from each other as sign and symbol.
During the course of my fieldwork (TR:1987) I spoke to a Senior Superintendent regarding the value of the periodic in-service' training courses offered to police during the course of their working life. What he had to say would seem to confirm the concepts expressed by Freire.
I don't think you learn much and when you come out of it it's such a little part of your life that in-service that you go straight back to your normal procedures and cast away that in-service training. I've been to a lot of in-service courses but I found that in just about all of them - other than to sit down and talk things over and then when you get back things just fall into line again. It wants more communication between higher rank and the lower rank because we can give those fellows so much of our knowledge - whereas they don't get it. I think it should be an ongoing thing; it's useless just for one or two months and that's the end of it for another 10 years.
Again and again however the question of money and man-power crops up as the inevitable restricting factor inhibiting the drive for improvement in a force which is considered to be expanding but not by any means to the extent of the need which it seeks to fulfil.
Originating in The Special Cabinet Committee on Aboriginal/police Relations which was set up after the Skull Creek/Laverton incidents of 1974/75, and was re-activated and motivated by the crisis occasioned in the Police Force as a result of the incident in Roebourne in 1983 when John Pat, an Aboriginal man, died in police custody, increasing efforts are being made by the W A Police Force to improve Aboriginal/Police relations. An increased percentage of the total training time of police recruits is now devoted to this effort and the training booklet already referred to is also part of a move to effect changes for the better. Not all senior police officers are convinced however that the correct formula has yet been discovered which will lead to noticeable success in the area. And, given that the number of periods allocated are so few and so brief, it is arguable whether they could in any sense be considered really adequate either to change a constable's basic attitudes to any great extent or to prepare him or her for the eventualities of interracial encounters. A senior police officer with considerable experience among Aboriginal people in the metropolitan area gave it as his opinion that there was "no official perspective" on Aboriginal people, nor could there be - it was rather more a "trial and error" situation. He explained that until recently, there were only one or two periods during the complete introductory training period for recruits when the subject of Aboriginal/police relations was addressed.
In 1985 the Police Department commissioned an external professional survey to be conducted by the Western Australian Institute of Technology into Aboriginal/Police relations. As a result, this section of the police recruits' training was increased to some extent. A team from the Western Australian Institute of Technology (now Curtin University) was commissioned to undertake the course (under their director Dr Ernie Stringer, who first undertook extensive research into the special needs involved). They took each intake of recruits and during two forty-minute sessions gave them a general introduction. Then the intake was split into squads and they spent one afternoon from one o'clock to 4 o'clock with each squad of about twenty four recruits. All in all each squad was involved in six sessions each. Usually a senior level policeman from Central Office - sometimes a commissioner, sometimes one of the senior superintendents, gave a twenty-minute introductory talk. The Aboriginal staff (staff from various tertiary institutions) provide the other lectures.
"It's very inadequate in terms of what you can present" said Dr Stringer, "you try to present an enormous amount of stuff in a very compressed form". Two sorts of feedback' were obtained - one from evaluation sheets given out to the students; the other from the general evaluation which was done by the Academy. The evaluation was made of the programme as programme, based on the students' opinion of that programme, and not of the students as students. There was according to Dr Stringer "an enormous amount of resistance" to the presentation of the programme.
Continuing attempts are therefore made to transform the prejudiced discourse that some police recruits bring with them into the force. The Aboriginal/police relations training package' was obviously one such attempt. The resistance to this was evident in the reply of one young police graduate to whom I posed the question as to what he thought of the speakers on Aboriginal police relations during his period of training at the Academy. He replied "Not much really. They (the speakers) just try to win you over". Quite clearly, the young man himself had not been won over' and had no intention of allowing his perceptions to be disturbed.
Another possible transformation, very partial and slow to come however, is conceivably being brought about through police working with Aborigines (this was certainly indicated as a possibility by the Aboriginal police officer quoted earlier); a third avenue - the influence and tutelage of older, more experienced and less prejudiced, members of the force is also available to some members of the force at least.
Whether however, and how much, such pressures - both from above' and from below' can be expected to lead to partial or significant modification of attitudes is not easy to quantify or demonstrate. Much evidence still points to the contrary: a strongly negative construction of Aborigines to a level which would appear to be beyond the capacity for most policemen or women to examine in a critical manner. This is because so much of it just cannot be challenged either by direct personal experience (because that experience is being constructed all the time in terms of these categories), or by the amount of re-education that the police service is at present able to provide.
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