Policing in remote indigenous communities has a troubled history, but one police station is doing things differently. Warakurna is the only police station entirely run by indigenous officers, and it features in the new documentary Our Law. Screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival, it shows the difference that a respectful approach to policing can make, following two indigenous Noongar police officers who are working hard to earn the trust and respect of the local community. Producer Taryne Laffar said, “Going into Indigenous communities with an understanding that there is a language, and there is a culture that exists in different parts of the country, helps create mutual respect and understanding between both sides of law and culture.”
Warakurna’s police are the first to use approaches such as learning the local indigenous language, and finding out how Australian law intersects with Aboriginal lore and traditions. The work being done at Warakurna is ground-breaking. The two police officers, Senior Sergeant Revis Ryder and Sergeant Wendy Kelly, have spent years building trust with the community. Taryne said when law enforcement authorities work to form relationships with people, and not just ‘catch criminals’, “it allows the opportunity to connect more easily with the majority of people in those places. And that in effect will help you do your job properly.”
The release of Our Law has also unintentionally come at the same time as global conversations about racism and the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA, which Taryne hopes will allow it to start conversations about local attitudes toward race. “There’s definitely some media around deaths in custody being brought to light in the mainstream,” said Taryne. “The timing is traumatic, and terrible, and the fact that these conversations are happening because of the death of someone is not something you’d ever want. But we’re grateful to be able to share in a different way of doing business, and to show people that there are solutions to bridging the gap.”
The Our Law documentary also comes not long after the recent apology issued to Indigenous people by West Australia’s Police Commissioner Chris Dawson, on behalf of the WA Police Force, acknowledging the mistakes and abuse committed by law enforcement in the past, that have contributed to the traumatic history of indigenous communities in remote Australian.
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