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NSW Police contribute to widening the gap – they must share responsibility for closing it


Wednesday 25 October 2023

NSW Police must share responsibility for Closing the Gap, says the Aboriginal Legal Service in response to a new report assessing how police work with Aboriginal communities.

The Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited (ALS) is concerned that it was not consulted on the new blueprint for police engagement with Aboriginal communities before its launch in August this year, despite the NSW Government’s prior commitment to align the plan with the National Agreement on Closing the Gap in partnership with Aboriginal communities and organisations.

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission’s report into the impact of the previous Aboriginal Strategic Direction (2018-2023) found that NSW Police accountabilities for Closing the Gap are currently unclear and recommended that the NSW Government list the NSW Police Force as a responsible agency.

“Closing the Gap is everybody’s responsibility, and achieving these targets will benefit all of us,” said Karly Warner, ALS CEO.

“By launching a new police-community engagement strategy without consulting us, and while refusing to engage with the LECC’s review into the previous strategy’s impact, NSW Police have demonstrated a lack of commitment to working in meaningful partnership to reduce Aboriginal over-incarceration. This is reinforced by the Police Commissioner’s troubling comments that police are not responsible for Closing the Gap.”

The over-incarceration of Aboriginal adults and children is at crisis point. In February 2023, Aboriginal people made up 29.7% of the adult prison population in NSW, which is the highest proportion on record. Latest figures from June 2023 show that Aboriginal young people represent 58.9% of the juvenile detention population in NSW, also trending upward. This is despite Closing the Gap targets to reduce the incarceration rate of Aboriginal adults by at least 15%, and of Aboriginal children by at least 30%.

“The evidence shows that discretionary action by police is overwhelmingly responsible for putting more Aboriginal people behind bars.

"Police disproportionately subject our communities to punitive practices like strip searches and bail checks, and disproportionately charge us rather than opting for diversion processes. There has been a sharp upward trend in police refusing bail to Aboriginal adults – the increase in bail refusals by police has been double the increase in bail refusals by courts*. What is responsible for this mismatch if not police discrimination?” Ms Warner said.

The ALS welcomes the LECC’s work on the review of the Aboriginal Strategic Direction. Robust and independent police oversight and accountability is critical to a functioning system, and an important pathway towards repairing community–police relationships and improving outcomes for Aboriginal people.



* Police bail refusals in relation to Aboriginal adults have increased by 22% since 2015, while in the same period court bail refusals increased by half this amount (11%). Source: https://www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au/Documents/Landing_Pages/What%20is%20driving%20Aboriginal%20adult%20incarceration%20in%20NSW.pptx


The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission’s monitoring report into the NSW Police Force Aboriginal Strategic Direction 2018-2023 can be found at https://www.lecc.nsw.gov.au/news-and-publications/publications.


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