Commissioner Chris Dawson speaking during the NAIDOC Week Ceremony
Commissioner Chris Dawson speaking during the NAIDOC Week Ceremony

The Western Australia Police has made a historic apology to Indigenous people for the mistreatment they suffered at the hands of law enforcement. Commissioner Chris Dawson made the speech at the police headquarters in Perth on Thursday as the Aboriginal flag was raised for the first time.

Coinciding with the NAIDOC Week in Perth, Dawson made the comments, acknowledging the “significant role” that the law enforcement played in the “traumatic history” of the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.

“And so, today, on behalf of the Western Australia Police Force, I would like to say sorry to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for our participation in past wrongful actions that have caused immeasurable pain and suffering,” Dawson said. “As the legislated protectors of Aboriginal people, police played a significant role in contributing to a traumatic history, w

He also acknowledged the “Stolen Generation,” in which police officers were ordered to remove Aboriginal children from their parents, saying that previous laws practices and policies deeply affected their lives, and that the involvement of the police had led to mistrust in law enforcement.

“The forceful removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and their communities; the displacement of mothers and their children, sisters, fathers and brothers — the loss of family and resulting destruction of culture, has had impacts.

“In addition, land dispossession, violence, racism, incarceration and deaths in custody have occurred through a history of conflict with Aboriginal people and police. The intergenerational impacts of this suffering continue to impact the welfare of Aboriginal people who are overrepresented in our justice system today.”

He continued, “We cannot change the past but we can learn from it. We can make amends and ensure mistakes are not repeated.

“From this day forward, and in my time as Police Commissioner, I will take steps to heal historical wounds between police and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I accept our tumultuous history, acknowledge the devastating impact of our actions and take ownership of being part of the problem.”

One of their initiative for improvement is the Aboriginal Cadet Program, which started in 2016. He said they plan to recruit more Aboriginal police officers as well as a reconciliation action to “improve, further and better the relationship.”

“When my police officers are in the field, I want them to treat Aboriginal people the same way they treat non-Aboriginal people,” he said.

Before he made the speech, Dawson reportedly said he planned to end the “unconscious bias” the police have against Aboriginals. He told The West Australian that he wanted a police force that was no longer distrusted and feared by Aboriginal people.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” he told the paper. “That’s not to say other police in the past have always done things wrong. Many officers have always done the right thing. I just think we can do things better.”

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags were flown at the police East Perth headquarters for the first time on Thursday. They will remain there.

The Reconciliation WA char Carol Innes has welcomed the WA police’s apology, saying it demonstrated the “level of respect” the community had sought for. Mervyn Eades, from the deaths in custody watch committee, told the Guardian that the commissioner’s apology was “a great way forward.”

Like Eades, Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous rights adviser, Rodney Dillon, also called for a “concrete action” after the apology.