Race data collection considered as Victoria Police scrap receipts
Victoria Police has scrapped its stop-and-search receipting program but the controversial idea of race data collection remains on the table as the force mulls over whether it would provide transparency or create more harm.
The pilot of issuing receipts was trialled in Moonee Valley, Dandenong, Mildura and Bundoora after a 2013 Federal Court case over allegations of racial profiling.
Deputy Police Commissioner Wendy Steendam said the practice of receipting would not be made mandatory.
“The public saw limited benefits in being provided with the receipts. Explaining the purpose of the receipt took longer than actually issuing the receipt,” she said.
The Police Accountability Project’s Anthony Kelly, who pushed for the pilot, said it was flawed from the outset, with little information available about how many were issued and why.
“It was so poorly put together the evaluation is useless,” he said.
Police officers will now have discretion over whether to hand out their business cards, which could yet be made mandatory for contact with anyone under 18.
Racial data a contentious issue
Ms Steendam said the concept of collecting ethnicity data to combat accusations of racial profiling would be looked at next year, but acknowledged it was a vexed issue.
While some groups think it would provide transparency and help monitor unconscious bias in police, others are against it.
“On one hand people think it would create more community harm by asking the question of ethnicity, and the very asking of the question makes people think they are being racially profiled.” Deputy Commissioner Steendam said.
“The interaction of just issuing a receipt without asking the question of ethnicity led to a more negative interaction with police.”
Tamar Hopkins, from the Police Stop Data expert working group, said while Victoria Police was the first in Australia to officially prohibit racial profiling by officers, there remains no way of knowing if it has been stamped out.
“Race data collection is an important monitoring tool,” the researcher said.
“It will either dispel concerns that racial profiling is occurring, or it will highlight that there are issues to be dealt with.”
Ethnicity data used in US, UK, Canada
Maki Issa was one of six young men who settled a Federal Court case over racial profiling with Victoria Police in 2013.
“In some areas it hasn’t improved, it’s gotten worse,” he said.
He said in Sunshine, Dandenong and Footscray there were constant reports of people of African background being stopped and searched for little reason by police and Protective Services Officers (PSOs).
“Since the Moomba [brawl] event, young people feel more targeted by random stop and searches. They call it harassment,” Mr Issa said.
Ethnicity data collection programs have existed in the United Kingdom for 25 years, and are used in many parts of America.
In London, monthly metropolitan police figures showed people from African or West Indian backgrounds were three times more likely to be stopped.
The recent traffic-stop race data collection project in Ontario, Canada, found black drivers were stopped two times more than expected based on their driving population, and drivers with a Middle Eastern appearance were stopped three times more often.
Victoria Police said diversity considerations would be embedded in police training and the force would look at measuring the success of various methods over the next three years.