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Policing in Redfern - Knowing our rights, creating trust

Telling the story shortly after it happened, 30-year-old Darlington resident Ben Falkenmire was still unsettled: “The problem is, we don’t know our rights. I didn’t know what to do.” reports Benjamin Ball in the South Sydney Herald of October 2008.

Ben was leaving Redfern Station at 5pm on a dim June evening when he passed a group of six or seven police officers standing around a man lying on the ground, ordering him to empty his bag and take off his shoes. The elderly man looked drunk, or high, and was having difficulty understanding. Ben stopped several metres from the group and watched to make sure “everything was okay”. Half a dozen people – with or without a uniform – standing over a half-conscious man made him feel uncomfortable. It seemed his civic duty to be a witness. A young constable approached Ben and asked him to move on. Ben objected – “I’m just watching, and this is a public space” – but the policeman was insistent. “You’re obstructing an arrest. If I have to direct you a third time, I’ll arrest you too.” Reluctantly, Ben moved on.

Months later, Superintendent Luke Freudenstein listens to the story in his TNT-Tower office. Such events, tensions and misunderstandings are nothing new in this building, but Redfern’s new Police Commander, an advocate of community trust and cooperation, looks concerned nevertheless. Such stories don’t help his cause.

“The first thing anybody should do in a case where they feel a police officer is not acting appropriately is to call the duty officer at the police station, who will investigate the matter as soon as possible,” says Freudenstein.

Police are entitled to direct the public to “move on” under certain circumstances, and can also search people’s belongings if they are suspected of carrying unlawfully obtained property or drugs, however, without knowing the specifics of Ben’s story, says Freudenstein, it is impossible for him to comment further. He emphasises that police prefer to speak to people than arrest them. The more communication police have with the community, he says, the better.

Serving as Crime Commander at Manly Police, Freudenstein was instrumental in helping the community to create and implement a Code of Respect, which was successful in reducing alcohol-related crime in the area.

Freudenstein would like to create something similar at his new command, but knows the inherent challenges of Redfern’s politically charged environment can make trust hard to achieve.

“You can make promises, but you’ve got to deliver. Community trust is a matter of making yourself well known in the local area. You’ve got to be available to the community, to build a partnership to reduce crime. I’m not going to make outrageous promises, like there will never be a police officer who’ll say the wrong thing to you, that’s ridiculous. We’re all human,” he says.  

The idea of a Code of Respect is to discuss the community’s concerns and know where it perceives the main crime problems to be. Nine times out of 10, says Freudenstein, the community’s concerns will coincide with those of the police, but sometimes there are issues the police are unaware of. Dialogue helps the public know its rights and responsibilities, and to understand why police officers may react harshly in stressful situations; it also fosters accountability.

After a successful trial period, Freudenstein will now be Redfern Police Commander for at least the next two years. He was a little nervous taking on a portfolio that included Aboriginal issues, but he praises the local Aboriginal community, and the leadership of the Aboriginal Housing Company in particular. “It’s a bit daunting for me not having that much experience with the Aboriginal community but so far that’s the best thing that’s happened to me in this job. If everything was as easy as dealing with the Aboriginal community, I’d be very pleased,” he says.

And he doesn’t believe gentrification, or anything else, will push the Aboriginal community off The Block. “I don’t think that’s going to happen, and I hope it doesn’t,” he says. Freudenstein has never felt uncomfortable on The Block. “They’re people I seem to have an affinity with. I enjoy speaking with them. They love sport, and so do I. I think that’s where our common denominator is,” he says.

[Paragraph deleted at the request of South Sydney Herald].

Those who would like more information on how to contribute to community-police dialogue should ring the police station (02 8303 5199) and ask about the next Community Safety Precinct Committee Meeting, to be held on November 13.

Photo: Ali Blogg - Caption: Police Commander Luke Freudenstein

Source: South Sydney Herald October 2008