Fifteen years after the last police-in-schools scheme in Victoria was scrapped, Victoria Police are pushing to put officers in classrooms to rebuild their relationship with the community. VALS is calling on the Victorian Government to block any plans for an expensive PR exercise that will be bad for children’s welfare and come at the cost of real efforts to build trust in policing. We need to limit contact of children, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, with police and the criminal legal system to safeguard their education and wellbeing.

Victoria has not had a state-wide police-in-schools scheme since the Police Schools Involvement Program was scrapped in 2006. At the time, Victoria Police acknowledged that there was no clear evidence that police in schools were having any positive impact. Youth offending has continued to drop since that time and Victoria remains the state with the lowest youth offender rate in Australia, apart from the ACT. It is still the case that putting police in schools is a policy proposal with no evidence to support it.

To the contrary, international evidence clearly shows that the presence of police in schools leads to more contact with the criminal legal system for children. Schools with an embedded police officer are more likely to refer students to law enforcement for minor behavioural issues. This disproportionately affects minority youth, and has led to criminalisation of, and police violence against, African-American children in the United States.

The Victorian Government has committed in the Aboriginal Justice Agreement to reduce young Aboriginal people’s interactions with the criminal legal system by improving access to diversion programs and other community initiatives. Putting police in classrooms would have the opposite effect and increase the over-policing of Aboriginal youth.

Education and engagement with schooling is a crucial protective factor for children at risk of coming into the criminal legal system. The presence of police officers would mean schools are no longer a safe space for many Aboriginal children, and would perversely increase the likelihood of disengagement.

Quotes attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service:

“Schools need to be a safe space for Aboriginal children, and that’s not possible with police in classrooms threatening to treat every behavioural issue as a criminal offence. Victoria is gradually recognising that police are not the answer to every social problem, and reducing police involvement in the response to public drunkenness or mental health issues. Behavioural issues in school are no different, and putting police in classrooms would be a huge step backwards. The Government condemned the idea of police in schools when it was proposed by the Opposition in 2018, and they should do the same today.”

“Victoria Police should be responsive to the Aboriginal community’s suggestions as to how to build a relationship, rather than unilaterally deciding on a course of action that can only be described as self-serving.”

“If Victoria Police wants to improve trust and relationships with the Aboriginal community, it should focus on addressing systemic racism within the institution, encourage and support calls for independent and robust oversight of police, support the calls to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14, and implement the relevant recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.”

To determine eligibility VALS will:

  • enquire as to the Aboriginality of the client;
  • enquire as to perceived or actual conflict of interest;
  • enquire as to compliance with the Means Test;
  • consider the merit of the client’s matter.

Aboriginality
The first time someone uses VALS they must provide proof of their Aboriginality using the Confirmation of Aboriginality Form. This form must be signed and sealed by the Officer Bearers of a recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation.

Conflict
VALS must not decline to provide assistance to an eligible person, group or body on the grounds that the other party to the matter is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. In circumstances where the relationship between the parties to a case would result in a conflict of interest, that conflict must be managed in accordance with the Victorian Legal Practice requirements and Policy Direction 9 – “Managing Conflicts of Interest” – of the Attorney-General’s Department Policy Directions for the Delivery of Legal Aid Services to Indigenous Australians (2008).

VALS will not act if a conflict of interest exists. A conflict of interest may be an ‘actual’ conflict of interest or a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest. A conflict of interest can involve:

  • Clients who have different interests, such as VALS may have advised or acted for person “A” (old client) who has an interest that conflicts with person “B” (intended new client).
  • Clients and VALS, such as a VALS staff member or Board Member has an interest that conflicts with an intended new client. Conflicts involving client-provider relationships are:
    •  An owner, director, manager, employee, contractor or agent of VALS and/or;
    • An employee of the Department; and/or
    • A close relative (spouse, de facto, parent, sibling or child) of any of the above.

VALS provides assistance on a first in best dressed basis (i.e. provide direct assistance to the party who approaches VALS first). VALS will refer the other party to another legal service provider or “brief out” the client to a private lawyer (subject to the client meeting the requirements for brief outs). Where appropriate, VALS may act for one client and provide assistance by brief out to the other.

Means Test
Where a person seeks casework assistance, VALS must ensure that applicants satisfy the Means Testing provisions of the Policy Directions.

VALS must ensure that all applicants for legal casework assistance satisfy one or more of the following requirements:

  • Under 18 years of age;
  • Main source of income comes from Community Development Employment Projects; (CDEP) participant wages or Centrelink (or equivalent) benefits; or
  • Gross household income is under $52,000 per annum.

Note: Household income includes the income of your partner, spouse, relative including an adult child who you live with.

The Means Test will be administered in two parts:

Part A: Requires the completion of a small number of questions relating to the applicant’s personal circumstances and income level.

Part B: Is required where applicants do not satisfy the criteria in Part A. It requires more detail about the applicant’s income, assets, employment status and number of dependents.

Merit Test
Discretion will be used to determine if a particular case has merit.