Policing people of Middle Eastern appearance : the construction of a suspect community in New South Wales, Australia

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Copyright: McElhone, Megan
People of Middle Eastern background and appearance have been over-policed by the New South Wales Police Force since the 1990s. This over-policing has involved an assemblage of policies, practices, and institutional units. Police work has also coalesced with law-and-order police, political, and media rhetoric to produce public discourses about the criminal capacities of ‘Middle Eastern’ people, as captured in the neologism ‘Middle Eastern organised crime’. These developments have been subject to little academic scrutiny. This thesis reduces the gap in the literature by examining the Police Force’s approaches to policing people of Middle Eastern background and appearance, for non-terrorism-related matters, between 1998 and 2018. The conceptual tool used to examine the over-policing of people of Middle Eastern background and appearance is the ‘suspect community thesis’. The suspect community thesis draws attention to institutionalised policies and practices that render members of racialised groups collectively subject to extraordinary policing and surveillance because of their status, identity, or associations, rather than their conduct. This study does not merely apply the suspect community thesis but also develops it in specific ways, thereby making both empirical and conceptual contributions. It draws on data from interviews with lawyers, community workers, members of the Police Multicultural Advisory Council, former police officers, and a range of documents. This thesis contends that the Police Force’s over-policing of people of Middle Eastern background and appearance has created and maintained a ‘Middle Eastern suspect community’ in New South Wales. Key themes traced in this regime of over-policing include the creation of police squads; the territorial policing of localities racialised as Middle Eastern; the targeted use of legal powers; and the extension of surveillance and regulation through community-based policing. The thesis also explores how institutional censorship and image-maintenance practices have allowed the police organisation to insulate its public knowledge claims about the suspect community. The policing of the Middle Eastern suspect community has been animated by proactive, intelligence-led, and pre-emptive rationalities and methodologies, which have also taken root in other jurisdictions. Accordingly, the findings of this thesis may be useful in conceptualising the over-policing of racialised communities in other contexts.
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McElhone, Megan
Grewcock, Michael
Sentas, Victoria
Dixon, David
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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