WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson has apologised for “immeasurable pain and suffering” caused to Indigenous Australians by police, calling for an end to racism and bias towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Commissioner Dawson claimed in his NAIDOC Week speech police “played a significant role” that contributed to “traumatic history” as well as indigenous “mistrust” of police in a commemoration outside WA Police headquarters, recognising a need for change.
“Today, on behalf of the Western Australia Police Force, I would like to say sorry to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for our participation in past wrongful actions that have caused immeasurable pain and suffering,” Commissioner Dawson said.
“As the legislated protectors of Aboriginal people, police played a significant role in contributing to a traumatic history, which continues to reverberate today.”
The commissioner said history had played a big part in the poor relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and police.
“I accept that previous laws, practices and policies deeply affected the lives of Aboriginal people, and that police involvement in historical events has led to mistrust in law enforcement and the damaging of our relationship,” he said.
However, he said it was important that people remembered the theme of Reconciliation Week and not “keep history a mystery”.
“We can make amends and ensure mistakes are not repeated,” Commissioner Dawson said.
“From this day forward, and in my time as Police Commissioner, I will take steps to heal historical wounds between police and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
He pointed to the growing relationship between police and Aboriginal youth in Wyndham as a sign of change.
“The rapport built between police and Aboriginal youth is now so good,” Commissioner Dawson said.
“A senior elder told me that Aboriginal children are now running towards police as their friend and protector, rather than running away.”
Brevet Sergeant Wendy Kelly said it was a sign of change.
“Very significant,” Ms Kelly said.
“I just feel like the police and Noongar community can actually move on now and hopefully that there won’t be any more problems police wise.”
Mr Dawson said it was time that there was a change in the image of WA Police, as “a beacon of protection and service to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
“I hope that I can rebuild the trust in our police force,” he said.