More than a year into the pandemic, COVID-19 is still changing the way we live. From fresh border closures, to the threat of new outbreaks, it seems no part of our lives are immune from the disruption.
That is, unless you are the NSW Police – who continued using sniffer dogs to harass young people throughout the pandemic.
Despite the toll COVID has inflicted on the economy, public health, and our mental wellbeing, data collected by Sniff Off, a drug reform campaign group, reveals the NSW Police continued to deploy sniffer dogs at train stations, bars, and other public spaces throughout the pandemic – even during the most recent Sydney outbreak.
“We are in the middle of a global pandemic and Gladys is still wasting taxpayer money and police resources on intimidating commuters.” a spokesperson from the group said.
Throughout the month of January, the group recording 17 sightings off police at various pubs, train stations and public spaces throughout Sydney, sourced from tip-offs by supporters throughout the city. Due to the crowdsourced nature of the data, it’s likely that figure grossly underestimates the actual number of deployments.
You Can’t Socially Distance During A Strip Search
Worse than the waste of resources, is the threat this continued practice poses to public health.
According to the Government’s own COVID-safe guidelines, members of the public should keep a distance of 1.5m from others when in public places – but the police’s continued use of sniffer dogs and strip searches make that impossible, putting the lives of those they pull up at risk.
Worse yet, those that are being stopped by police have often done nothing wrong. The NSW Police are not required to publish data on the amount of strip searches they conduct each year, however 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… officers conducted 5,362 strip searches during the 2018-19 financial year, from which 3,546 did not result in a prohibited drug, dangerous article or item being found.”
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.”
With all the changes we’ve had to adapt to in the last year, maybe it’s time the NSW Police also changed – and abandoned this dangerous practice.
Can I refuse a search if a police drug dog alerts?
According to the law, police need to have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect that you are carrying illegal drugs before they can search you.
While there is controversy as to whether or not a positive identification by a sniffer dog constitutes reasonable grounds, if a police sniffer dog does sit down next to you, police are legally allowed to search you.
You can refuse, but if you do, you may be taken to the police station and searched forcibly.
If you want to make a complaint about a police sniffer dog, you will need to get as many details as possible about the circumstances surrounding the incident, including the name and rank of the officer in charge of the dog, the location where the incident 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 Law Enforcement Conduct Commission.
Being searched for drugs after a false identification by a sniffer dog can be extremely upsetting and humiliating.
If you have concerns about a drug dog operation, or you have been touched by a sniffer dog at an event, it’s a good idea to speak to a lawyer before you make an official complaint.