Redfern, 1990



Sydney Morning Herald

9 February 1990

Sydney’s Aboriginal community has called for an urgent inquiry into police raids in Redfern yesterday, which led to 10 arrests on minor charges and the confiscation of goods.

Operation Sue – a 135-strong contingent of Tactical Response Group officers, Sydney District police, the Police Rescue Squad and police dogs -launched the raids, with search warrants, about 4 am.

Targeting 10 houses in five streets, the police carried out the raids, using sledgehammers, in less than 20 minutes.

Residents said the raids – which involved houses in the adjoining streets of Eveleigh, Lawson, Caroline, Hugo and Louis – sparked panic in the community, as people spilled out on the street.

Police defended the raids as the first offensive in a crackdown on crime and drug abuse in the area. They said the raids were the culmination of a three-month intelligence-gathering operation.

But Aboriginal leaders – who called an emergency protest meeting in Redfern yesterday – said they planned a mass demonstration outside the Redfern Local Court on March 1, when those arrested will appear.

The meeting of more than 100 Aborigines also decided to ask the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody to investigate the raid, and the tactics used, as part of its inquiry later this year into the death of Mr David Gundy, who was shot dead by police in April last year.

The Royal Commissioner, Mr Hal Wootten, QC, who conducted a special sitting in Redfern on Wednesday to examine black-police relations, said last night he would consider the request.

He said: “The question of Aboriginal-police relations … particularly in Redfern … is of fundamental importance to the commission.”

Those arrested included six males and four females ranging from 16 years of age to 40.

The 12 charges included seven counts of goods in custody, warrants for supply and possession of prohibited drugs, possession of drug implements, being under the influence on an SRA railway carriage and a breach of community orders charge.

The police haul of suspected stolen goods – estimated at 55 in total -included cameras, video cassettes, walkie talkies, five handbags, television sets, guitar strings, one American dollar and one Philippine dollar.

Sydney District Commander, Executive Chief Superintendent Alf Peate, who headed the operation, rejected claims by the NSW Aboriginal Legal Service(ALS) that the raid was a “pathetic failure”.

Although police had yet to establish whether the confiscated goods were stolen, he said that several of the goods in custody charges were expected to be upgraded to assault and robbery once the owners of the items had been traced.

He said the raid had been conducted in response to requests from the community over concerns about the growing incidence of crime and heroin abuse in the area during the past three months.

The use of shotguns had been avoided to ensure there was not a repeat of the Gundy shooting, Superintendent Peate said.

“Our normal surveillance activities can’t operate in a place like the black community. You stand out like you know what,” he said.

“Where do you survey the activity of people when they are all the one breed?

“So you’ve then got to look at alternative methods and that was what today was all about.”

Redfern’s two Aboriginal Police Liaison officers said they were considering resigning over the incident.

After the meeting of more than 100 Aboriginal people yesterday, the ALS’s Mr Cecil Patten, said: “The raid was typical of the police’s South African-style fascist and Gestapo tactics.”




10 February 1990

Sydney Morning Herald

The NSW Minister for Police, Ted Pickering, is again refusing publicly to criticise or endorse the actions of his men; his shelter, as usual, is his view that a Police Minister should not involve himself in police operational matters.

That is cold comfort to most of the Redfern Aboriginal community, who were roused from their slumber at 4 am on Thursday morning by the thunder of sledge-hammers against doors as 135 armed police men and women raided 10 homes. The police team included 18 of the toughest police in Sydney – officers from the Tactical Response Group (TRG), trained to deal with sieges, hijackings and terrorism.

All for what?

By Thursday night, police had laid 12 minor charges that included warrants for supply and and possession of drugs and possession of one bong. The charges included one against an unfortunate individual for being under the influence on an SRA railway carriage and one for a breach of a community service order.

Well, there was always the list of “suspected” stolen goods. At 55 that looked impressive. It included cameras, video cassettes, walkie-talkies, five handbags, guitar strings and one Philippine dollar and one American dollar.

The police tactic was to take goods unless receipts could be produced showing proof of ownership – a tall order, at 4am, you might think. What chance of a similar haul, including illegal drugs, if the raid had been conducted in leafy Paddington?

The senior officer who headed the raid, the Sydney District Commander, Executive Superintendent Alf Peate, argued, correctly, that police had been asked by the Redfern Community Consultative Committee to take action against street drug-sellers. With six overdoses in the Redfern Community in the past six months and 25 cases of assault and robbery (police figures) in the area in January, the community’s concern seems justified.

But at issue is the heavy-handedness of Thursday’s raid and the future implications for the much-espoused alternative of community police for Redfern.

What do the police now mean to the six-year-old boy who told the Herald, after the raid: “They came into my room. I was scared. I thought they were going to take mum away.”

Mr Peate, offering his justification for the raid, said: “Our normal surveillance activities can’t operate in a place like the black community. You stand out like you know what. Where do you survey the activity of people when they are all one breed?”

Does this mean the end of community policing in Redfern?

Don’t ask the Minister for Police, Mr Pickering.

On Thursday, his office declined requests for the minister to be interviewed about the raid, saying he saw the affair as a police operational matter.

Yesterday, more than 24 hours, after the event and with no lesser figure than the royal commissioner into black deaths in custody, Mr Hal Wootten, publicly raising questions about the police tactics, Mr Pickering still refused to come out of his bunker.

Mr Pickering, his spokesman told the Herald, had received a “fairly detailed briefing” from the police about the raid.

Later yesterday the spokesman said the minister had asked for “an additional report” that would canvass a number of allegations made by some sections of the Redfern community concerning the use of excessive force by police. Until then, said the spokesman, the minister could not say whether he was “happy or unhappy” about the raid.

In a statement issued through the spokesman, Mr Pickering announced: “I will not be drawn into promoting this into a political issue which in my view will serve no good interest.” The statement reinforces Mr Pickering’s long-held tenet that he will not interfere in police operational matters.

For example the NSW Police Board in its 1986-87 annual report was scathingly critical of the Wran Government’s stewardship of the police force, saying it was “astonished” at the extent of ministerial involvement in police management matters.

Ministerial interference had extended, the board report said, to the numbers of police allocated to individual police stations. Police squads of all sorts had been established at ministerial whim “in response to perceived needs to the detriment of general policing with little regard to overall organisation.”

To his credit, Mr Pickering has refrained from involving himself in the operational detail of the day-to-day running of the force. But the matters at issue in Redfern now concern Government policy and the accountability of the NSW Police Force.

If community policing has been abandoned in Redfern, Mr Pickering should say so. And in the face of fresh allegations of excessive force being used against the Redfern community, he should inquire and inform the public of the result. Both issues transcend “operational matters”.

As Mr Wootten told the ABC yesterday: Obviously, the questions that arise are whether an operation of this kind and this magnitude and these methods was really necessary.”

Mr Pickering has yet to say.


One Response to “Redfern, 1990”
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  1. […] defending the need to police Aboriginal people in particular. When they were asked to justify the infamous Redfern raids, the Executive Chief Superintendent explained that ordinary policing wouldn’t work in Aboriginal […]

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