NSW police minister won't comment on scheme that targets Indigenous children

Michael McGowan
Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

The New South Wales police minister has refused to comment on a secretive blacklist used disproportionately to target young Indigenous people with sometimes “coercive” tactics because it is “an operational issue”.

On Thursday the NSW Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC), the state’s police watchdog, released the findings of its investigation into the suspect target management plan (STMP), an opaque policing practice which used “unreasonable, unjust and oppressive” tactics that in some cases are likely to be illegal.

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The two-year investigation found that while the STMP had been designed to monitor repeat offenders and prevent crime, it was often used to target children using “intrusive” policing tactics, “unreasonable surveillance” and “harassment” that could in some cases increase young people’s risk of entering the justice system.

The LECC found that despite being designed to target adult offenders, the STMP was disproportionately used against Indigenous children, including some who had never been charged with an offence.

NSW police said after the report’s release that it had “initiated a redesign” of the STMP to “ensure it is appropriately applied to young people”, but legal academics and justice advocates say its use against children should be stopped altogether.

University of New South Wales law academic Vicki Sentas, who co-authored a 2017 report that sparked the LECC’s investigation, said the STMP remained “a troubling grey zone” outside of the law.

“The LECC makes a number of recommendations it considers would improve the STMP, but this tool is highly inappropriate for children and should be abandoned all together,” she said “Best practice in supporting children from offending requires holistic, tailored support for families from social services and culturally appropriate community-based support, not subjection to harmful forms of policing.”

David Elliott, the NSW police minister, refused to comment on Friday when asked whether he was concerned about the disproportionate representation of young Indigenous people on the STMP, or whether it believed children should be targeted under the policy.

In a one-line statement, a spokesman said: “The minister won’t be commenting on this as it’s an operational issue.”

But the NSW shadow attorney general, Paul Lynch, said the use of the STMP to target children was “inappropriate”. He welcomed the commitment to “youth-specific consideration” but said it was “quite inappropriate to apply a strategy and assessment designed for adults to young people in this field”.

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“It’s perhaps not surprising that LECC found patterns of targeting that led to unreasonable, unjust and oppressive interactions for young STMP targets. If STMP is designed to target recidivist criminals, it’s hard to see how it can be applied with any frequency to children.”

Sentas said that in many cases the LECC had been unable to tell whether police had been executing powers legally.

“The problem is not simply, as the LECC put it, that the nature of the interactions between police and those targeted are neither clear nor accountable,” she said. “The lack of police understanding of their lawful powers and the systemic lack of regard for proper documentation underscores the STMP program is a troubling grey zone that sees itself as outside the law.”