As part of their three-year action plan to eliminate racial profiling, Victoria Police are currently piloting ‘stop & search’ receipting in Dandenong and Moonee Valley. In June they will start in Boorandara and Mildura.
Here are five things you should know about receipting.
Receipts are handed to people after a ‘Police initiated contact’ – which is when a police officer has some discretion in deciding to stop a particular person or group. These are the stops most likely to be arbitrary (without lawful justification), or influenced by ‘bias’ where stereotypes or assumptions about a person may consciously or unconsciously influence a police officer’s decision. Police in the pilot zones are being encouraged to consider what lawful reason they have to stop someone and to consider if bias may be impacting on their decisions.
The pilot includes both police and Protective Services Offices (PSOs) at ten train stations in the pilot zones. PSO’s have recently been the subject of a report by the Federation of Community Legal Centres which highlighted the tendency for PSO contact with members of the public to escalate into conflict situations where PSOs then use physical force and weapons. The report details the PSO practice of conducting ‘informal chats’ with people at train stations that lead to demands for personal information and concludes that these ‘chats’ are an unnecessary intrusion into the privacy of commuters.
These pilots wont collect data on the perceived ethnicity of people who are stopped by police. This is a shame as it means we still won’t be able to tell, once and for all, if police stop certain groups of people more than others. During our race discrimination case which prompted this receipting trial, police’s own LEAP data was independently analysed and young African men were found to be 2.4 time more likely to be stopped by police in Flemington and North Melbourne, despite being under-represented in the local crime stats. This was only a snapshot. Well collected police stop data by ethnicity can provide a ‘helicopter view’ of which communities are experiencing most police stops and then police and community can work out how to reduce this disproportionate police contact.
Many hundreds of receipts have already been given out in Moonee Valley and Dandenong. Each receipt represents a stop where there has been no law-enforcement outcome. This pilot will give us a picture of how many people are stopped by police in a given area and we can compare this with the numbers of stop before the pilots started. Will police be more reluctant to stop a person if they have to fill out and provide a receipt each time? Will receipts reduce the amount of arbitrary stops? We don’t know, but the focus on the sheer amount of police stops is welcome.
For people who get stopped by police or PSOs, receipts will be a way to prove that you have been stopped and how many times you get stopped. That is why we are asking people to keep their receipts, and to report the stop to us at StopWatchVic. You can take a photo of the receipt with your phone and send it to 0476 922 361 or, if you feel like you have been treated unfairly or just to let us know what happened, give us a call. Do these receipts make you feel safer or more assured that police are stopping you for a lawful reason?