Stopped by a sniffer dog? You may have a police record – even if nothing was found

By Kieran Adair

June 2, 2021

The state’s police watchdog has warned that thousands of people could be subjected to ongoing police harassment following strip searches – even if anything illegal was found. 

The Redfern Legal Centre recently found evidence that more than 5,500 people had their details recorded in a NSW Police intelligence database following a strip search where nothing illegal was found.

The state’s law enforcement watchdog has warned those people could be subject to ongoing police harassment, after it found evidence officers used records on the database as a justification for searching people.

In a recent report, the watchdog wrote “that Cops records… create a negative inference about the person searched” which “may be used as a justification for a subsequent strip search.”

“The war on drugs has become a war on our basic liberties” Mark Davis, principal of Sydney City Crime, said.

“Like roadside drug testing, the sniffer dog program has become a de facto means of drug testing all citizens. Police need the flimsiest of grounds to form ‘reasonable suspicion’ before subjecting someone to one of these invasive searches.”

A Complete Misuse Of Power

The practice of strip searching people, following a positive identification from a drug sniffer dog, has previously been criticised by legal experts and civil liberties advocates.

“The majority of police strip searches find nothing. We now know that more than half the people needlessly subjected to this traumatic procedure are left with a permanent police record for no reason,” she told The Guardian Australia.

“Once a person’s identity has been logged in the police system, it is there for life.”

 “The fact that this is frequently occurring in cases where no crime has been committed is not only unjust, it is a complete misuse of power. This can have a tremendously negative impact on a person’s life, especially if that person happens to be Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.”

Data obtained by the ABC in 2019 found that more than two-thirds of strip searches carried out by NSW police fail to find any illicit drugs. Despite this, the New South Wales Government continues to support the program – despite mounting evidence that it is subject to abuse.

Another report, published last year by UNSW Law found that “Police data shows that routinely, strip searches are not being used in serious and urgent circumstances, indicating widespread contravention of the law.”

What If You’re Stopped By A Sniffer Dog

If searched, and nothing is found, you do not have any obligation to provide any personal details to the police.

The NSW police drug detection dog operating procedures state that when a search occurs and no offence is identified, officers must obtain “explicit and informed consent” before collecting the person’s details.

“Where a search has occurred and no offence has been identified, if police request personal details, they are to advise the person that they are not obliged to provide their personal details, and inform the person how those details are to be used: ie making a record of the incident upon Cops,” the document states.

If you want to make a complaint following a strip search, you will need to get as many details as possible about the circumstances surrounding the incident. These include the name and rank of the officer in charge of the search, the location where it happened, and the names of any witnesses who were also there.

You can make a complaint at your local police station in person or over the phone, or you can lodge a complaint with the police watchdog – the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission.

If you have concerns about a strip search it’s a good idea to speak to a lawyer before you make an official complaint.

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