Constable Kur Thiek said people in Sudan were often suspicious of corrupt police. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
Constable Kur Thiek was a bit nervous as he prepared for his first day on patrol as a Victoria Police officer.
“Today is my first shift after graduation,” he said at the Narre Warren Police Station south-east of Melbourne.
“So I’m excited and also a bit nervous as well to be honest.”
Constable Thiek represents the changing face of Victoria Police.
The 31-year-old arrived as a refugee from Sudan 12 years ago.
Over the past six years the number of African-born police officers has more than doubled from 34 to 70, but a large percentage of those are from South Africa.
Constable Iglay Dangassat says while working as a PSO he learned how to de-escalate a situation. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
Constable Thiek is one of just 26 African police officers from non-English speaking backgrounds in Victoria Police — Constable Iglay Dangassat is another.
He is from Congo and has been on the beat in Melbourne’s north for three months.
“It’s very beneficial for the organisation for people to have different backgrounds,” he said.
“Especially from African/Australian backgrounds.”
At a time when politicians are lamenting “African crime gangs” in Victoria, just 0.18 per cent of 14,250 police officers in the state come from the communities generating many of the headlines.
In other words, fewer than two in every 1,000 police officers come from non-English speaking African communities.
Getting ahead of the curve
Commander Glenn Weir wants the new recruits to be drivers of change. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
Commander Glenn Weir from Victoria Police’s People and Development Command is trying to create a more culturally and linguistically diverse police force.
He oversees the “applicant attraction team” — designed to assist potential recruits through the selection process.
“So we’re very keen to get ahead of the curve on some of these issues and have people from all communities, including African communities come into Victoria Police, help serve the community and help solve some of the issues that we’re facing at the moment,” he said.
Recruits must pass a range of tests including language, fitness, swimming, psychological evaluations and panel interviews before being sworn in.
Senior Constable Scott Allison (left) with new recruit Constable Kur Thiek at Narre Warren police station. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
At 197 centimetres tall, Constable Thiek failed the agility test the first time around.
“So I had to come back and practice more to get that right. I’m a bit tall so running through the cones was a bit hard, but I got it right,” he said.
While Victoria Police wants more African recruits from non-English speaking backgrounds, it is a problem not easily solved when English language skills are an essential criteria for the job.
It is also difficult when the people you want to attract to the force are inherently suspicious of police.
“Most developing countries — part of the problem of why people become refugees is because of instability … law enforcement agencies like police, frankly speaking, they are corrupt,” Constable Thiek said.
Commander Weir said it is a perception the force must change.
“Policing in general is not seen as a desired occupation within those communities,” he said.
“We’re very keen to break down those misconceptions and those barriers within those communities.”
Constable Dangassat said he also had a negative perception of police in Africa.
“In Congo, where I’m from, having an interaction with the police it is different. Usually it is going to end up with someone being arrested or someone being charged,” he said.
‘I learned to de-escalate’
Constable Iglay Dangassat said in Congo, any interaction with police usually ended up with someone being charged. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
Both Constables Dangassat and Thiek started as Protective Service Officers (PSOs) before applying to join the police force.
They both believe it was a valuable training ground for a police career — learning how to better communicate with people and deal with racism.
“We’re trained to cope with those sorts of situations,” Constable Thiek said.
“You can get people who can be racial but you deal with them professionally.”
“I learned to de-escalate. Learned to listen to someone that’s abusing you,” Constable Dangassat said.
Superintendent Weir wants officers like Constable Kur Thiek to be drivers of change in the force. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
Commander Weir said PSOs are more representative of Victoria’s culturally and linguistically diverse communities than police and the PSO are making it easier for some with aspirations to join the force to make the transition.
Since 2014, 244 PSOs have undertaken the 19-week training program to become a police officer.
“It’s a great achievement,” Commander Weir said.
“We want to see our recruits from different communities champion our organisation within their own communities and we want to see them as the drivers of change within our organisation.”
Just before embarking on his first patrol in a divvy van, Constable Thiek still had one eye on his future.
He hopes to one day study law and become a police prosecutor.
“I intend to be a proud member of Victoria Police,” he said
And maybe he will inspire others to “uphold the right”.
“If we have more members from the Sudanese community … joining to reflect the community — that’ll be great,” he said.