Police engagement with African communities in Western Australia

Date of Award


Degree Type

Thesis - ECU Access Only

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Integrated)


School of Arts and Humanities

First Advisor

Kwadwo Adusei

Second Advisor

Pamela Henry

Third Advisor

Justine Dandy


Utilising a qualitative, grounded theory methodology, this research investigated police engagement with the African communities, especially youth in Western Australia. Voices of African youth, police officers and African leaders’ perspectives and experiences were captured through in-depth interviews and focus groups in relation to the nature of their relationship. Factors contributing to the relationship and considerations for effective engagement between the multiple parties were explored.

Overall, the study found that the relationship between African youth and police in Western Australia was tense and filled with mistrust. There was a gap between standard policing and the community policing models when addressing non-law-abiding African youth, particularly around the Perth commercial business district (CBD). Community policing was found to effectively engage African community leaders and their associations but unable to address ongoing tension between patrol officers and African youth in entertainment precincts around Perth CBD. African leaders were concerned with the harsh treatment of African youth by police and disappointed with non-law-abiding youths’ refusal to attend support events they organise for them. Youth accused police of being racist towards them. Many participants evidenced excessive monitoring and movement restrictions (through move-on notices), arrests and hefty charges in Perth CBD as being racially motivated. Police participants accused African youth of disorderly behaviour, including challenging police authority and involvement in violent crimes. Police, youth and African elders noted a lack of cultural sensitivity and training of patrol officers, as well as a lack of understanding of legal and policing matters by African youth. Considering community engagement models from both community development and community policing engagement perspectives, a community policing engagement model for culturally and linguistically (CaLD) communities has been proposed based on data obtained.

Participation of African communities, especially youth, on policing matters, recruitment of African people into WA Police, cultural training of police officers and providing education to African communities on policing and legal matters are key to resolving tensions and building trust between the two parties. The continued tension and reported racism towards African youth in Perth CBD has brought into question WA police’s legitimacy, commitment to procedural justice and protection of basic human rights in terms of freedom of movement and inclusion of all citizens. While youth were interviewed from various Perth suburbs, there was a suggestion that the major concerns they had related more to the Perth CBD. By not prioritising non-law-abiding African youth and relying on African leaders to report community policing issues, police are not effectively addressing ongoing crime issues. Therefore, community policing needs to prioritise members of community who engage most with police, driven by core business needs and achieved by aligning standard policing and community policing priorities to work together in addressing African youth challenges.

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