The NSW Police Suspect Target Management Plan- Targeting Suspects of Crime When No Crime Committed

The NSW Suspect Target Management Plan – Is it fair?
In an attempt to break the cycle of domestic violence in NSW, the Minister of Justice and Police announced in October of this year that it would “roll out Domestic Violence High Risk Offender Teams in the NSW Police Force to target recidivist offenders and investigate domestic and family violence matters.” The expansion of the Suspect Target Management Plan to, cover recidivist domestic violence offenders is part of this initiative.

What is the Suspect Target Management Plan?
The Suspect Target Management Plan (STMP) is a police policy in NSW that provides law enforcement with a standardised, coordinated approach to managing repeat offenders. The way it works is that police officers are provided with lists of offenders who are on bail and are at risk of re-offending. Police are told to monitor those on the target list and wait for them to commit another offence. As soon as someone on the target list steps outside of the law, even for the most minor of criminal offences, they are re-arrested and in many circumstances refused bail and locked up.

Is the Suspect Target Management Plan a form of police harassment?
Targeting repeat offenders is an intervention strategy by the state to reduce reoffending as part of its strategy to prevent crime. Even though its goal is to reduce reoffending, the Suspect Target Management Plan instead subjects offenders to what Public Interest Advocacy Centre Ltd. (PIAC) describes as “unwarranted harassment, surveillance and victimisation.” This over policing and breach of civil liberties then leads to a “breakdown in relations between police and the individuals concerned.”

This is especially true with communities that are already over policed and stigmatised such as the NSW Aboriginal community. For example, Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd. points out over policing such as with the Suspect Target Management Plan, “contributes to the overrepresentation of indigenous youth in children’s courts.”

The SMTP target list is based on specific criteria and risk factors that the police use to make decisions about who to monitor. However, a major flaw with the Suspect Target Management Plan is that the NSW Police Force engages in actuarial risk assessment tools in the development of its target lists. Actuarial methods are often touted as more accurate than clinical judgement alone.” However, a study done by Hart SD1, Michie C, Cooke DJ to evaluate the accuracy of actuarial risk assessment instruments concluded “they cannot be used to estimate an individual’s risk for future violence with any reasonable degree of certainty and should be used with great caution or not at all.”

Some of the risk factors include:
criminal history;
familial offending;
child notification reports (abuse and / or neglect);
truancy and school attendance;
alcohol and other drug use; and
offending peers.

Is the Suspect Target Management Plan fair?
It is inconceivable that a court would consider facts such as those above as a basis to increase someone’s sentencing. For example, a judge would not increase an offender’s sentence just because he was male, had a previous record of skipping school, and has a mother who is an alcoholic. However, the police use these risk factors to legitimise their lists and the subsequent deprivation of personal liberty.

Another issue with actuarial risk assessment instruments is that police monitoring is based on probabilities and not on any actual crimes being committed. The judiciary process does not allow for someone to be accused of a crime based on probabilities. For example, a search warrant would not be approved without evidence or probable cause. However, the Suspect Target Management Plan allows for individuals to be targeted without a crime having been committed as a precondition to the removal of liberty.

Although some police may feel otherwise, the Suspect Target Management Plan does not give police any additional powers to interfere with individual liberty and rights than those contained in the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) and the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW) (LEPRA).

The Suspect Target Management Plan as a deterrent
The Suspect Target Management Plan also does not take into consideration the systemic issues that may have contributed to people committing the crimes in the first place. For example, one of the criteria in the risk assessment is targeting individuals who are in ‘hot spots.’ However, these ‘hot spots’ or high crime areas are often a result of marginalisation, poverty, problems with social housing and other public policy issues.

Instead of over policing and waiting for criminal offenders to re-offend why not put strategies in place that deter individuals from reoffending such as reintegration, employment or other anti-poverty programs?

The goal of the SMTP is to ensure compliance with good behaviour bonds and as Bashan points out in his article, “police believe the plan is also acting as a deterrent to would-be offenders because of its high visibility.” However, statistics show that over policing has the opposite effect according to as Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd. highlights, “the STMP, being a major cause of imprisonment for Aboriginals.”

Another issue with the Suspect Target Management Plan is that it does not differentiate between minor and major offences. So what ends up happening is that individuals convicted of minor offences are overcrowding jails and clogging up the justice system while they wait for trial or remand.

Since the powers that police get through the Suspect Target Management Plan are discretionary, police would better serve the community by using these powers in a way that is not oppressive, and, instead where the Suspect Target Management Plan is concerned, prioritise violent and more serious offenders for targeting, rather than a broad implementation that increases the rate of low-risk offenders being incarcerated.