Copwatch App was launched in Dubbo to educate community about their rights

Community education: Des Jones and George Newhouse. Photo: Antonia O'Flaherty
Community education: Des Jones and George Newhouse. Photo: Antonia O'Flaherty

Dubbo was the location of the national launch of a Copwatch app aimed at educating the Indigenous community about their rights during interactions with police.

The app is a new phase of the National Justice Project’s (NJP) Copwatch programme, which aims to improve police and Indigenous relations.

Copwatch co-presenter Des Jones said the app would empower the local community and build justice for Aboriginal people. 

“Copwatch isn’t anti-police … It leads to better Indigenous to police relations, it’s not the total solution but we hope it’s empowering.”

NJP principal solicitor George Newhouse said the app allows individuals to look up their rights, learn how to film police interactions safely and securely and inform family, friends or their lawyer when they are involved with police and send them their location.

“The decision to launch the app in Dubbo is a direct response to the city’s recently publicised hard-line stance on policing.  

“Under District Superintendent Peter McKenna we have received reports of local Police targeting Aboriginal kids.” 

Orana Mid-Western Police District Commander Superintendent Peter McKenna said it was disappointing police or himself were not invited to the forum “to give a more balanced perspective”.

“I can categorically state there is not racial profiling of any type in relation to our policing strategy, our policing strategy isn’t new, it’s about taking a proactive approach to disrupt criminal behaviour, its certainly not targeted at youth, however, it is targeted at the criminal element who would like to cause harm to our community,” Supt. McKenna said.

“I am dumbfounded that people coming from outside of this area would make such outrageous allegations that police are targeting aboriginal youth. This is certainly not the case, in fact we go out of our way to work with Aboriginal youth, vulnerable youth, on a regular basis to ensure we are breaking down the barriers between police and youth especially in the Dubbo area.

“An example would be the fit-for-life early morning boxing and breakfast program which myself and many police officers attend every week with Aboriginal and vulnerable youth which has been an outstanding success.

“The proactive policing strategy works because crime has reduced and we get overwhelming support from both the Indigenous community and the wider community. 

“There is no hard-line approach as has been quoted, I have certainly got no objection to anyone wanting to record interactions police or ensure their rights are being upheld, in fact, our front-line police now wear body worn video cameras and are all trained in the most professional manner possible.

“Not only do we have a high proportion of Aboriginal police officers, we have Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers who we work side-by-side with, we are involved with numerous programs with aboriginal and vulnerable youth where we attend both on and off duty, often giving up hours of our own time, because we know it’s the right thing to do. 

NJP launched the Copwatch app on Friday at the Aboriginal Lands Council where community members attended the workshop explain the features of the app.

“The name of the program sounds aggressive, but we have seen better cop and community relations after people attended this program,” Mr Newhouse said.

“The program is about de-escalating situations we advise people to stand back rather than be aggressive during a police interaction.”