Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Police and Aboriginal Suicide

All police training procedures should include at least a ten-hour block of material on the phenomenon of suicide, including attention to Aboriginal suicide.

Although suicide is no longer a criminal act, the police are the first or, after a medical visit, the second to
attend a body. It is the police who have to investigate the circumstances and report to a coroner.

The police are the custodians of the youth who threaten, or succeed in, suicide in detention. Clearly they are ill-equipped to deal with such matters. Caging a detainee inside a perspex box and looking at a television screen is hardly a ‘treatment’. At best, it is preventing a media or investigative process into yet another death in custody. The police presumption, for the most part, is that custody itself gives rise to the suicide: yet police are given no insight into the events occurring outside of custody which lead to the suicide while in custody.

Given the extraordinary role that the police have had, and still have, in Aboriginal lives, there is every reason to have trainee and working police exposed to the suicidal aspects of Aboriginal life.

Police regional commands should emulate the model established at Hornsby Police Station, where a senior constable is the youth school liaison officer, giving lectures on suicide at schools and youth centres.

The NSW Education Department should consider allowing people from outside schools, such as these police liaison officers, to conduct lectures, or preferably, workshops for older high school pupils.

The Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers (ACLOs) are in the forefront of practically every facet of Aboriginal life. They warrant being formed into a professional category in the Police Service, with higher salaries, overtime (not paid in their ‘package’), an ACLO union, their own vehicles, and in-service training, especially in suicide.

More Aborigines should be encouraged join the Police Service.

Key Messages:
The NSW Police Service can contribute a great deal to the alleviation of Aboriginal youth suicide:
• by providing for a professional category, and appropriate salary, of Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers, the people who are most in daily contact with Aboriginal youth at risk;
• by establishing many more youth school liaison officers in rural and remote areas, on the Hornsby Police Station model—men and women capable of discussing suicide with high school pupils.

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