NAIDOC Sutherlandresize
South West Superintendent Mick Sutherland

South West Superintendent Mick Sutherland has been praised for his work in regional WA and for building positive relationships with Aboriginal communities.

Aboriginal Affairs Superintendent Brian Wilkinson called Supt Sutherland a ‘champion’ for his commitment to ensuring better outcomes for Aboriginal people through a collaborative approach to policing, especially during his time in the Kimberley.

“I saw his work with the Aboriginal community and some of the things he did, including the difficult times at James Price Point, but he just worked so collaboratively,” Supt Wilkinson said.

“He had the respect of the Elders because he showed respect to them and engaged with the community. It was a tough time in the Kimberley, with a high number of suicides, but he brought everyone together in a working group that reduced that number the following year.”

Along with implementing a taskforce to look at youth suicide, Supt Sutherland also tackled the insidious issue of child abuse by securing $4.8 million in funding to roll out the Kimberley Response to Child Abuse in 2014.

But, as Supt Sutherland recalls, one of his proudest achievements was bringing Aboriginal Community Relations Officers to Broome and Kununurra.

“I think the biggest achievement was just working side by side with the original APLOs and then the Community Relations Officers. They were able to improve community confidence in the police and also provide invaluable knowledge to new officers coming to the Kimberley by providing cultural awareness training,” he said.

Before leaving the Kimberley, Supt Sutherland was recognised for his work with Aboriginal communities and was presented with the Reconciliation Award as part of the Kullarri NAIDOC Awards in 2013. As a mark of respect, Kimberley women lead by Elder Kathy Watson held a special ceremony and presented significant cultural gifts to Supt Sutherland for his focus around domestic and family violence.

Using the knowledge from his time in the Kimberley, Supt Sutherland has implemented similar policing strategies in the South West, including a program that targets young offenders and redirects them towards education and cultural emersion.

“We have a recent program here that has taken nine young offenders, who have been responsible for nearly 200 offences, and have provided them with improved access to education and more opportunities to connect to their culture. After running that program, the offences have come down to just two for the group,” he said.

Supt Wilkinson said it was important to recognise leaders like Supt Sutherland during NAIDOC Week.

“I actually think we need to recognise the great work Aboriginal police officers do, but also the great work that our non-Aboriginal champions do. It takes great courage to lead in this space,” he said.

Supt Sutherland said he was committed to continually improving relationships between Aboriginal communities and police.

“We need to continue to promote positive discussion around this issue, but at the end of the day, actions are better than words. We need to work collaboratively with all the communities we serve to ensure they have continued faith and trust in us.”