Policing practices

The concept of ‘over-policing’ is used to refer to the degree of police intervention in Indigenous communities and includes:

  • numbers of police stationed in a community
  • the nature of police intervention
  • use of particular policing practices.

A more recent development in Australian policing has been the promotion in some jurisdictions of ‘zero tolerance policing’. The idea behind this is that a strong law enforcement approach to minor crime, in particular public order offences, will prevent more serious crime from occurring and will ultimately lead to falling crime rates. However, it has been recognised that zero tolerance policing is likely to have an adverse effect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities where the result is usually an increase in arrest for public order offences.

Anunga rules

In 1976, as a result of a series of cases dealing with the admissibility of the evidence of Aboriginal people taken during interviews, the landmark Anunga Rules were articulated in R v Anunga (1976) 11 ALR 412 at 414-415) to guide police during interviews with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:

  1. When an Aboriginal person is being interrogated as a suspect, unless he is as fluent in English as the average white man of English descent, an interpreter able to interpret in and from the Aboriginal person’s language should be present …
  2. When an Aboriginal is being interrogated it is desirable where practicable that a ‘prisoner’s friend’ (who may also be the interpreter) be present. The ‘prisoner’s friend’ should be someone in whom the Aboriginal has apparent confidence …
  3. Great care should be taken in administering the caution… It is simply not adequate to administer it in the usual terms and say, ‘Do you understand that?’ or ‘Do you understand you do not have to answer questions?’
  4. Great care should be taken in formulating questions so that so far as possible the answer which is wanted or expected is not suggested in any way …
  5. Even when an apparently frank and free confession has been obtained relating to the commission of an offence, police should continue to investigate the matter in an endeavour to obtain proof of the commission of the offence from other sources …
  6. Because Aboriginal people are often nervous and ill at ease in the presence of white authority figures like policemen it is particularly important that they be offered a meal …
  7. It is particularly important that Aboriginal and other people are not interrogated when they are disabled by illness or drunkenness or tiredness …
  8. Should an Aboriginal seek legal assistance reasonable steps should be taken to obtain such assistance …
  9. When it is necessary to remove clothing for forensic examination or for the purposes of medical examination, steps must be taken forthwith to supply substitute clothing.

While these are rules, not laws, there have been cases where the court has said that failure to comply with the rules may lead to the exclusion of evidence.