POLICE say a ban on using ethnic or religious words to describe offenders is obstructing investigations.
The police union has labelled the policy, a direct order from Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan, as “political correctness gone mad”.
Officers can no longer use details such as a suspect’s nationality, race or religion when seeking public help.
Instead, they have been told to say if the person is light or dark skinned.
WA Police Union president Russell Armstrong wants the rule overturned.
The Equal Opportunities Commission says the ban was introduced six months ago after complaints that using ethnic descriptions was racist.
The commission said witnesses who made reports to police would often get the ethnicity of a suspect wrong.
Mr Armstrong said using “scant descriptions” made it harder to catch criminals.
“If you just turn around and say we are looking for a 20-year-old male, 180cm, with black hair, how many people in the community does that description fit?” he said.
“If somebody is Australian or if somebody is English or if somebody is Nigerian, wherever they are from, police should be allowed to say that in their description of offenders.
One police insider said the policy had prevented the capture of suspects.
“These rules don’t give a true indication of who police are looking for,” the source said.
“There is a big difference between a dark-skinned person being Aboriginal or African. And if we are looking for an Asian person-of-interest it’s a bit narrow to describe them as simply having fair skin and dark hair.”
But Equal Opportunity Commission state commissioner Yvonne Henderson said using ethnic descriptions reinforced negative stereotypes.
“It can feed into prejudiced ideas in the community about which ethnicities are mainly responsible for criminal behaviour,” she said.
Ms Henderson also said the police use of ethnic descriptions was often misleading. “Often they were inaccurate because they were based on one person’s assumption of someone’s racial background, which could be wrong,” she said.
The commission will investigate any incidents where police use ethnic descriptions.
Ethnic Communities Council of WA president Maria Saraceni said the ban stopped police condemning everyone of a particular race in an area they were investigating.
“If police say they are looking for an Indian, how would the public know to distinguish between an Indian and a Pakistani?,” Ms Saraceni said.
“It is much more accurate to use details like height, weight or hair colour.”
Police spokesman Insp Bill Munnee defended the rule.
“The continued use of ethnic descriptors enforces stereotypes, does not promote understanding between cultures, damages police-community relationships and is not considered a sound investigatory practice,” Insp Munnee said.
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