Sniffer Dogs in NSW
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Review of drug detection sniffer dogs in NSW
September 2006, the NSW Ombudsman released his long-awaited
on drug detection sniffer dogs in NSW. The report is highly
critical of the dogs as inefficient, discriminatory and ineffective.
CCL welcomes the report and calls on the NSW government to remove
the dogs from the streets, where they regularly violate the
right of all citizens to be free from arbitrary search and detention.
In February 2002 the Police
Powers (Drug Detection Dogs) Act came into force in New
South Wales. That Act allows police to use sniffer dogs to perform
searches without a warrant on people
at pubs, entertainment events and on public transport.
In 2004 the Ombudsman
began a review of the Drug Detection Dogs Act. The
Ombudsman will make a report to Parliament on how the dogs are
being used and their impact on the community. The final report
has been delayed and is due to be given to the Minister in February/March
Please note: the Drug Detection Dogs Act
is no longer in force and has been replaced (see
You can read the Ombudsman's discussion
paper. The discussion paper demonstrates that the
dogs are a dismal failure:
- 73% of people identified by the dogs are not carrying drugs
- most drugs detected are small amounts of cannabis
- dogs are failing to detect drug dealers
to the Ombudsman's review. (size: 255k)
CCL's president says about the discussion paper.
Legal note: the
Powers (Drug Detection Dogs) Act is no longer in force.
Click here for more information.
Make a complaint
or report to CCL about sniffer dogs
You can send your complaint or report about sniffer dogs to
To make a complaint or report you can:
- email your complaint to CCL at: email@example.com
- write a complaint to CCL at: NSWCCL, PO
Box 201, Glebe NSW 2037
include these details in your report or complaint about
- Name (optional)
- Date, time & location (include
postcode if known)
- What happened before, during
and after the time of the search?
- What have been the impacts of
the incident. Did you consent to the search?
- Was any legal action taken against
Other organisations you can complain
You can also make a complaint directly to:
Know your legal rights
Where can police use sniffer dogs?
Police are only authorised to use drug sniffer dogs to search
people randomly in five situations:
- in pubs, clubs and other places where alcohol is served
- at entertainment events, including sporting events, concerts,
dance parties & street parades
- on public transport and stations
- in tattoo parlours
- in and around the area of Kings Cross
Any drug search of a person outside these situations is illegal
unless the police have a reasonable suspicion or a
If you have been approached by a police sniffer dog team, or know
of police using dogs outside these areas, you should complain
or report it.
What should I do if I am approached
by a sniffer dog?
If a dog sits down next
you, then police can search you. It pays to
know your rights so check out the following pointers.
- Stay calm
and be polite. You could be fined or arrested if
you swear at the police, so don’t give them an excuse.
- Be cooperative and let the police search you.
But ask them why they are searching you. And ask them for
their name, rank and station.
- Try to remember where (location) and when (time
of day) police search you. This info might be important
if you decide to make a complaint.
- If you have drugs on you….
The law says you must give your name and address to police,
if the police discover drugs on you. But you don’t have
to say anything more, if you don’t want to. This is
your right to silence.
- If you don’t have drugs on you…
If police ask for your name and address, ask them whether
you have to. If police say you don’t, then don’t…because
they will put that info on their database and might use it
against you later. If police say you have to give your name
& address, then it is better to cooperate and make a complaint
You can complain to the police, the
or a lawyer if the dog touches you or if the police are aggressive,
rude or rough you up.
Where can I get legal advice?
You can get legal advice and support from:
If you think you have been badly treated by police and their
sniffer dogs, you should complain.
If you want to help with CCL's campaign you can:
- write to or phone your local
member of State Parliament
- phone talkback radio
- write letters to newspapers and other publications
- download and distribute our posters:
poster (size: 552K)
- flyer (folded A4 sheet) (not yet available)
Newtown anti-sniffer dog protest
Ever since the introduction of police sniffer dogs, the Sydney
communities of the Inner City and Inner West have been unfairly
targeted by the police and their dogs. Commuters, residents
and visitors to these communities are being harassed and searched
by police on the say so of a dog!
The Newtown Peace Group and CCL organised a protest to let
the police know that the residents of Newtown and surrounding
suburbs have had enough! A rally was held on 10 June 2004. Speakers
include Lee Rhiannon, Greens politician, and Cameron Murphy,
President of NSW CCL.
More than 100 people attended the rally and then marched to
the local library, where Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore was
holding a public consultation meeting. The Lord Mayor spoke
to a delegation from the anti-sniffer dog rally.
Drug detection dog warrants issued at
Newtown Local Court in 2004
CCL has released a report
on the operation of NSW Police drug detection dogs in Newtown.
The report reviews the warrants issued by the Newtown Local
Court to Newtown and Marrickville police. The warrants authorise
the use of sniffer dogs in public places, for example along
King St and Enmore Rd.
The major findings are that:
- only 1 in 5 people identified by the dogs (and subsequently
searched by police) is actually carrying prohibited drugs
- the vast majority of positive drug detections are for small
amounts of cannabis
- Newtown police are targeting the local methadone clinic
- Newtown police are targeting Newtown railway station because,
according to police, "many commuters are found in possession
of illegal drugs"
- Marrickville police are requesting and obtaining warrants
covering 5 entire inner-western suburbs
You can read CCL's report here.
legal notes (for lawyers)
On 1 December 2005, the Law
Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW)
came into force. It replaces the old Police
Powers (Drug Detection Dogs) Act 2001 (NSW), which
commenced on 22 February 2002. All drug detection dog matters
after 1 December 2005 fall under the new Act. The provisions
of the LEPAR Act are (for all intents and purposes) identical
to the old Act.
If you are defending someone who has been detected by a dog,
the first thing to do is determine whether police required a
warrant. There are prescribed places where a dog can be used
without a warrant: section
148 of the Act, and r
38 (train routes) and r
39 (bus routes) of the Regs.
If your client was searched outside of these areas, police
need a warrant: section
149 of the Act. Make
sure that there is a warrant and that it is valid.
Any member of the public can inspect a warrant at the Local
10(6)(c) of the Regs.
A report on the execution of the warrant must be furnished
to the Local Court within 10 days of the execution of the warrant:
74(2) of the Act. You can view the execution report, as
well as the warrant: reg
10(6)(c) of the Regs.
Your attention is drawn to the following cases:
- Darby v DPP (2004) 61 NSWLR 558; (2004) 150 A Crim
NSWCA 431: see , in which majority suggest that assault
& battery prior to dog identifying someone renders
a search unlawful.
v DPP (NSW District Court, 11 March 2005): applying
Darby, search after a positive identification by
a drug detection dog was unlawful, because dog assaulted the
accused before dog identified him. Evidence obtained during
unlawful search excluded under section
138 of Evidence Act.
- R v Benecke 
NSWCCA 163, is a case about the reliability of tracker
dogs. At  the court observed that:
In R v Barnes, Gleeson CJ considered
appropriate and adequate a warning in relation to tracker
dog evidence that the jury should bear in mind that the
dog was not able to be cross-examined and that the jury
should be careful to avoid over-estimating the reliability
of the operation of a dog's senses so as to avoid too rapidly
arriving at the conclusion contended for by the Crown from
the evidence of the dog's activities.
It might be possible to argue that the same applies to drug
The situation in 2004
The situation in 2001
Articles by Timothy Moore, Redfern Legal Centre (2001)