NSW Police have disproportionately targeted Indigenous children with a secretive blacklist since the year 2000, a two-year investigation has found.

Over 400 children, some as young as nine, were targeted by procedures which were found by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission — the watchdog which oversees the cops — to be “unreasonable, unjust or oppressive.”

The vast majority of these children are described as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander according to the report’s analysis of the police’s own records. NSW Police use a different methodology and claim the figure is lower at 47%.

All but two of the children were also identified as having a “vulnerability” such as drug abuse history, homelessness or mental illness. Some of the children targeted had not actually been charged with any crime.

The questionable program used by NSW Police, called the Suspect Targeting Management Plan (STMP), is intended to prevent crimes before they occur. It allows police to identify likely future offenders and undertake a range of actions – including “stop, search and detain” practices – in the effort of preventing crimes.

However, activists and legal groups, including the Redfern Legal Centre, said the STMP is akin to a “blacklist”, setting people up to be unfairly targeted.

These range from positive engagement, to patrolling targets’ homes, to enforcing “stop, search and detain” practices. The investigation found the latter “overt and intrusive” strategies to be the most commonly applied.

Activists and lawyers alike, including the Redfern Legal Centre, have often described the STMP as a “blacklist”. Critics say having one’s name added to the program sets them up to be unfairly targeted. Until the LECC investigation, details surrounding the STMP were largely kept from public eyes.

“The Commission was further drawn to this issue because of the apparent absence of any particular consideration of the unique characteristics of children and young people in the development of the STMP, and the risks that its application to this population would be unreasonable,” said the Hon Michael Adams QC and the Hon Lea Drake in the forward to the report.

Home visits in particular were described by the LECC as a kind of “harassment”. For children living with their families, police visits without any crime being committed were found to strain family relationships and damage the family’s reputation in their neighborhood.

The investigation also found that police subjected children to repeated and ongoing stops, searches and home visits without any reason aside from being in targeted by the STMP. This is against the law, according to the report.

The LECC outlined 15 proposals to reform the STMP but stopped short of calling for the program’s termination. NSW Police have said they accept all of the recommendations and will redesign the program over the coming months.

Regardless, it’s about time that two decades of targeting children has been investigated.

Image: iStock / Greg Bethmann