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Warakurna welcomes first all-Indigenous police station, aiming to repair a community's mistrust





The first entirely Indigenous-run police station in Western Australia is using cultural ties to gain the trust of a remote Aboriginal community.

Not far from the Northern Territory border, Warakurna in Western Australia is policed by two sworn Aboriginal officers who also cover two other nearby communities.

Since they began working there in late 2017, the officers have been making inroads in gaining the respect of residents.

Aboriginal elder, Daisy Ward, said the community had not been accustomed to police officers from a similar cultural background and had previously feared their presence.

"When the first Indigenous police came, the kids didn't know until I told them: 'Listen, you know those two [police officers]? They're like us," said Ms Ward, who has lived in Warakurna all her life.

"For the community, they are really happy because they know how the two Indigenous police work with the [community]. And how they've come to make a good relationship.

"Because they were friendly, the [community] knew they were Indigenous. They knew they were not scared to talk."

Warakurna officer-in-charge, Revis Ryder, said he hoped to become a role model for younger Indigenous people in the community.

Youth crime had "dropped off dramatically" since last year, according to Senior Sergeant Ryder, who is also the local footy coach.

"You hear stories when you go into schools when you speak to kids — 'what do you want to be when you grow up?'

"I'm hoping the kids in Warakurna say they want to be police officers, and I'm hoping that has come about because of myself and [Sergeant Wendy Kelly]."

He said that since the station was staffed with only Indigenous officers, youth crime had fallen as a result of their engagement and outreach with the community.

"That's something that since I've been here, it's dropped off dramatically," he said.

'We are not scared'

Deaths in police custody, racial profiling and a national incarceration rate more than a dozen times higher than non-Indigenous people have all contributed to a mistrust of law enforcement among Aboriginal people.

But in Warakurna, residents wave at the police as they drive past, and children greet the two officers with smiles and cheers when they stop by a local school.

Ms Ward said with two Aboriginal officers now working in their community, the people in Warakurna had started to see the police differently.

"Before [the community here] used to be scared of the police. Now they see the police are here to help. [The community] are looking at this and thinking 'yes, we are not scared'," Ms Ward said.

"It makes the community feel proud to have an Indigenous person who is the same like us, and it makes a good feeling."

Senior Sergeant Ryder, who previously played football for East Fremantle and whose son Paddy plays for Port Adelaide in the AFL, is also the local footy coach.

On Saturday afternoons, he marshals a group of roughly a dozen young men at the red dirt footy oval in the community, going over strategy for the match.

"It's good when Revis is there. We listen to him because he's Indigenous," said local footy player, 17-year-old Isiah Cooke.

"He can understand us too when we talk to him. He's a good coach too."
Hopes new Indigenous police model spreads

Warakurna, after which the famous Midnight Oil song takes its name, is nestled at the foot of the towering Rawlinson ranges.

Senior Sergeant Ryder and Sergeant Kelly work in a multi-purpose office they share with the Northern Territory police as well as other WA Government agencies.

At one end is a little-used courthouse that the officers have turned into a makeshift gym — across from where the magistrate sits, there are weight machines, a treadmill and an elliptical trainer.

Sergeant Kelly said she wanted to see more police stations follow the successful all-Indigenous police model used at Warakurna.

"I actually worked with a young fellow who was from his own community when he joined and it worked brilliantly," she said.

"We need more, absolutely.

"There is a lot of negativity about police and stuff like that, so for me [it's about] getting out there and promoting a positive role as a police officer."
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