SMH: Sniffer dogs join 50,000 music fans for the start of festival season

More than 50,000 music fans kicked off the festival season on Saturday alongside a high-visibility police operation involving drug detection dogs, Amber Schultz reports.

Sniffer dog operations have reportedly returned following their apparent suspension due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  By the LAw Enforcemnet Commissions's own admission, 71 per cent of searches indicated by sniffer dogs up until June 30 this year found no illicit substances. That’s a whopping 2,859 searches out of 4,000 just during the first half of the year. Last year the number sat at 75 per cent, where almost 5,000 searches proved the dogs incorrect.

Many of these incidents result in strip searches. Police have the power to strip-search anyone they suspect has illicit drugs, including following a positive indication by the sniffer dogs.

After restrictions eased in 2020, there were reports of drug dog presences at Mount Druitt, Central and Blacktown train stations. David Shoebridge, Greens MP, commented at the time that during the pandemic the police force should seek to: “withdraw from aggressive and overt police tactics, that are clearly inappropriate during a pandemic, and we put searches and drug dog operations at the top of that list.”

Premier Chris Minns has promised to hold a drug summit within the government’s first term, but is yet to announce any details. He has ruled out implementing any drug reform until after the summit.

According to the NSW Ombudsman, no drugs are found in almost three-quarters of searches conducted following an indication by a sniffer dog, which raises serious concerns as to their accuracy. Despite this, there has been an almost twentyfold increase of strip searches in less than 12 years, which has been correlated to the use of drug detection dogs.

“Saturation policing with sniffer dogs at music festivals and railway stations or forcing teenagers to remove their clothes in the back of police vans does not make the community safer,” says UNSW Law Lecturer, Dr Vicki Sentas.

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