The police appear to be extremely racist towards the Indigenous populations, resulting in high levels of arrest for minor offences such as ‘swearing at a police officer’ in addition to a large number of Prohibited Behaviour Orders being issued. These in particular seem to affect those who are homeless and affected by alcohol and mental health issues. This means that those receiving those orders are banned from the locality in question for a period of two years, which may be impossible to obey due to limitations on where they can seek accommodation or find a safe place to sleep.
“Violations of human rights by police officers can only make the already difficult task of law enforcement even more difficult” (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2006: 199). What the article does not mention is the quandary that is placed on police officers by council workers and senior officers to clean up the streets and make it look more presentable and trouble-free whilst on the other hand, respecting the issues of the Indigenous populations and assisting them where possible to address the issues of concern rather than making the situation even more difficult by limiting the facilities and localities they can access.
In Western Australia “Indigenous women comprise nearly 70% of women received into prison in a given year, compared to Indigenous men comprising around 45% of the male population” (Cuneen, 2001: 29). Again, minor offences have been cited as the cause of these rates of imprisonment, including fine defaulting and public order offences.
Alternatives to policing in the way of Aboriginal Community Patrols appear to be a successful initiative, maintaining a relationship with the police at the same time as reducing levels of arrest and intervention. One such example is of the Mirriwong Patrol in the remote East Kimberley region of Western Australia finding “a dramatic reduction in detentions in police lock-ups from 1336 arrests in 1995 to 188 in 1996” (Blagg & Valuri, 2004: 209). It could be the case that police are more focused on ‘lockup em’ approach with little time, patience or resources to address the issues behind the public offences, whilst community patrols are on the opposite end of the scale.
Nevertheless, this does not address the breaches of human rights the homeless community face, in addition to the discrimination allegedly experienced in the hands of police officers. Every human has the right to secure accommodation in addition to “an adequate standard of living, the right to education, the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to privacy . . . the right to freedom from discrimination” (Housing, Homelessness and Human Rights, 2013, n.p.). These rights can be found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
It is difficult to see how the situation of the Indigenous street populations can be improved as it appears that nothing has changed in the past 30 years with the homeless community and the lack of resources and interest presented to this section of society.
Blagg, H., & Valuri, G. (2004). Self-policing and Community Safety: The work of Aboriginal
community patrols in Australia. Current Issues in Criminal Justice. 15(3), 205-219.
Commonwealth Secretariat. (2006). Commonwealth Manual on Human Rights Training.
Cuneen, C. (2001). Policing Indigenous Women. Conflict, Politics and crime: Aboriginal
communities and the police. Crows Nest, Sydney: Allen and Unwin.
Housing, homelessness and human rights. (2013). Retrieved from the Australian Human
Rights Commission Website: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/rights-and-freedoms/projects/housing-homelessness-and-human-rights