NSW Police Targeting First Nations Kids With System Of ‘Pro-Active’ Monitoring

"Kids that are placed on the STMP experience it as an ongoing pattern of police harassment,"

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New South Wales Police are under fire again for a controversial monitoring program that disproportionately affects young First Nations people.

Like something out of Minority Report, the Suspect Target Management Plan (STMP) was developed by New South Wales Police as a system to identify young offenders for ‘pro-active’ monitoring.

Those placed on the STMP reported being randomly stopped and searched in public and subjected to police home attendance checks at all hours of the night, with one young individual being visited at home by officers 196 times between November 2015 and March 2017. Legal advocates warned that young people who hadn’t committed any legal offences had also been placed on the STMP including those who had simply been at risk of domestic violence.

Despite the STMP going through three revisions, legal advocates have warned this week that the program still disproportionally targets First Nations youth. Lead solicitor for the Police Accountability Team at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), Grace Gooley told Junkee that the current breakdown between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth on the STMP was “very, very concerning”.

“First Nations children are really grossly overrepresented in the cohort of STMP targets,” Gooley told Junkee.  “For people aged under 18, First Nations children represent 57 percent of the cohort, for children aged under sixteen, they comprised 64 percent of the cohort.” 

Gooley says that PIAC recently uncovered new documents from NSW Police that detail the extent of the strategies and powers police are encouraged to use when enforcing STMP targets, ranging from using family members as informants to issuing vehicle defect notices.

“The documents show us the full suite of coercive powers police are encouraged to use on someone once they’re placed on the STMP, this includes things like issuing vehicle defects notices according to the logic that reducing someone’s mobility reduces their ability to commit crimes.” Gooley told Junkee. 

“Another really concerning thing police are encouraged to do is build relationships of trust with someone’s family so that they can cultivate family members as intelligence sources.

“That’s obviously really harmful to fostering a pro-social environment which we know is so important to address underlying criminogenic factors.

“Kids that are placed on the STMP experience it as an ongoing pattern of police harassment. They experience it as an intrusive and coercive exercise of police powers. We’re talking about repeated home attendances and stops and searches on the street when they’re out with family and friends, which is hugely stigmatizing and embarrassing.”

According to PIAC, police officers use two separate algorithms to identify which young people should be placed on an STMP, the Crime Severity Index and Risk Factor Identification Tool. Gooley told Junkee that while the mechanics of both systems are shrouded in mystery, one question in the Risk Factor Identification Tool questionnaire seen by PIAC raised concerns of structural bias.

“The one question we’ve seen is “are there any indicators of family instability within the young person’s family?”, that question indicates that the RFIT is structurally weighted against children from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Gooley told Junkee.

Other documents seen by PIAC suggest that police officers are free to use their discretion to nominate individuals to be placed on an STMP, a power Gooley says leaves the program on to the bias of individual police officers.

While the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) concluded that STMPs are “associated with a reduction in crime”, Gooley says that PIAC will continue to lobby the NSW Police to stop using STMPs on young people.

“We know that contact with the criminal justice from a young age is a key predictor of future contact. This increased contact with police through the STMP leads to an increase of policing-related charges, for policing-related offences like offensive language and resisting arrest, which just keeps young people entrenched in the criminal justice system.”