Sudanese youth: over-represented or over-policed?

Countless articles, with “African gangs” or similar in their headlines, state that Victoria’s Sudanese population is over-represented in crime statistics. According to the latest data by Victoria’s Crime Statistics Agency (CSA), Sudanese-born migrants make up 0.1 percent of the general population but account for 1.4 percent of alleged offenders.

We should be cautious about these numbers.

The CSA relies solely on information provided by Victoria Police through its reporting database, the Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP). It does not include data from the courts, which means the numbers do not reflect convictions, but suspected criminal activity.

Anthony Kelly, from the Fitzroy Kensington Community Legal Centre, told the Guardian early in January that over-representation is a “misconception”:

“A young African person who has committed no crime, who has done no wrong, is far more likely to be targeted and threatened and seen like a criminal by police and by shopkeepers.”

The media hysteria around “violent African youths” and the formation of the African-Australian community task force will likely further increase racial tensions and harassment of African communities.

In Victoria, police do not require reasonable grounds to stop pedestrians and vehicles. There are no measures in place to ensure they do not target suspects based on their race or ethnicity; it is entirely left to their discretion.

LEAP data are not available for independent analysis.

When the database was opened for investigation by a Federal Court order in 2013, specifically for the Flemington and North Melbourne area for the years 2006-08, there was clear evidence of racial profiling. Not only were the police diary notes full of racist language, but while African and Middle Eastern youth were 18 percent of the region’s population, they made up almost half of all police stops.

Following the investigation, Victoria Police came under pressure to implement measures against racial profiling. This included providing receipts for all stop and searches, with the perceived race of every suspect noted down. The reluctance of the police to take up these measures is unsurprising.

It is not a stretch to imagine that Sudanese migrants are over-represented in crime statistics because many officers presume them to be criminals.