The NSW Police Force has rejected suggestions it it is contributing to the over-representation of Indigenous people in custody by over-policing Aboriginal communities.
It says instead that proactively diverting people from the criminal justice system is the key to addressing the issue.
A NSW upper house inquiry into First Nations over-representation in custody and deaths in custody questioned Assistant Commissioner Anthony Crandell on the police approach at a Monday hearing.
Greens member David Shoebridge told him many witnesses had said they want fewer interactions with police, and had asked instead to be given resources to have self-determination in their own communities.
“We can’t simply turn a blind eye to what’s happening in these communities,” Mr Crandell said.
“We need to look at preventative strategies and try to prevent people from coming into the criminal justice system … So to simply say, well, we should have no contact I don’t think is an acceptable solution.”
Mr Crandell cited the controversial suspect target management plan (STMP) as an example of proactive policing.
Aboriginal adults make up 23 per cent of the total number of people monitored under the crime prevention strategy. There are 16 Aboriginal children “active” under the program, which is five cent of the total cohort.
None of those children are under 14, Mr Crandell said.
Asked by Mr Shoebridge if police accepted any responsibility for the high rate of Aboriginal incarceration, Mr Crandell said police found it “unacceptable” and it was an issue they want to work with Aboriginal communities to address.
The committee earlier heard from the family of Nathan Reynolds, an Indigenous man who died of an asthma attack in prison in 2018.
Sisters Taleah and Makalya Reynolds told the inquiry that they nearly lost another brother in jail this year when his pneumonia went untreated for two weeks, despite his pleas to prison staff for help.
Taleah Reynolds told the inquiry: “Even two years down the track, inmates still aren’t taken seriously with regard to their medical health concerns”.
The Reynolds sisters were critical of authorities’ communication with them after their brother’s death. They said police who delivered the news only said “we think” Nathan had died, and that Taleah had to make numerous phone calls to find out where his body was.
They said the inquest process had been difficult for them as they watched government bodies pass the buck between each other.
They received officials’ version of events surrounding their brother’s death only when they were given the brief of evidence in his inquest, some six to nine months after he died.
The Reynolds family has called for the introduction of an independent body to investigate deaths in custody.
Police watchdog, the Law Enforcement and Conduct Commission, told the inquiry on Monday it could absorb that function if government chose not to create a new body, as it is independent and experienced in judicial functions.
Integrity commissioner Lea Drake said it was essential that the investigation process is speedy.
“The difficulty here in this area is the entrenched resentment and sorrow that people feel because of the delay. If an investigation is conducted quickly, independently and people can see the result and the attention then they have more faith in the process,” she said.
“At the present moment you could die of old age. And that’s just not OK.”
The parliamentary inquiry continues on Tuesday. The inquest into Nathan Reynolds’ death resumes on Friday.
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