'Act on behaviour, not colour'

COMPLAINTS of heavy-handed policing of African youth have "not completely gone away", says a south-eastern community legal service boss.

Helen Yandell, director of Springvale-Monash Legal Service, was pleased with the "positive" response by Chief Commissioner Ken Lay to the issue last week.

"I think the instances have reduced but not enough for my liking. We're hearing anecdotally that it's still happening.

"Youth workers are still telling me these stories, and they're not dissimilar to our 2009 report."

The report Boys, you wanna give me some action: Interventions into Policing of Racialised Communities in Melbourne, co-authored by three community legal services including Springvale-Monash, found African young people claiming "racialised" treatment by police.

The report stated Africans were being excessively stopped and searched, questioned, asked for identification and asked to move on — more so than other cultural groups. In some cases they were victims of physical violence.

Last week, after an out-of-court settlement between police and a group of African-Australians alleging "racial profiling" and over-policing against them, Victoria Police's chief commissioner Ken Lay acknowledged "some of our people have let us down".

Chief Commissioner Lay announced a review into police's public relations and multicultural training.

At the Dandenong-based Safe Suburbs taskforce, there is a sense of marked change — especially since moving from a "zero tolerance" to "firm but fair" approach to public disorder last August.

Acting Senior Sergeant Sam Knight, who heads the enforcement arm of the taskforce, says her members treat everyone equally.

"We have quite a good rapport with the African community. You come across the same sort of people and same sort of issues regardless of background."

The Safe Suburbs taskforce has been credited with reducing public drinking and public robberies and assaults in Greater Dandenong since late 2011. Protective services officers have also becalmed notorious railway stations such as Dandenong at night.

Senior Sergeant Knight says out-of-control, unregistered weekend parties — many involving African and Pacific Islander groups — were the most pressing issue. Police are being called out to disperse crowds of hundreds of intoxicated people from about six parties each weekend.

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