BY ALEC SMART
NSW Police remain defiant that they will continue strip-searches during drug detection operations, despite recommendations they cease the practice by NSW Deputy Coroner Harriet Grahame during a recent inquiry into six recreational drug deaths at music festivals.
On Nov 18 NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller defended his force’s use of strip searches, including the controversial targeting of minors, many of them girls under 18 who were made to undress and squat for an inspection.
Freedom of Information documents obtained in October by Redfern Legal Centre revealed that since 2016 there have been 3,919 strip-searches by NSW Police on women and girls. Young women aged 25 and under accounted for almost half the searches, with 122 of them girls under the age of 18, including two 12-year-olds.
To reinforce his determination, Commissioner Fuller announced he had sent a video to 17,000 police officers across NSW declaring he supported the continuation of strip searching, and that any changes to the current policy would lead to an increase in crime.
“People need to know there are consequences, especially those who are criminals or on the verge of being criminals,” Fuller told Daily Telegraph newspaper. “They need to have respect and a little bit of fear for law enforcement…
“You look at London,” he added. “They decrease their person searches by 20,000 because of a government policy position and knife crime went through the roof. When the legitimacy of policing communities is questioned it has a negative impact on public safety.”
The commissioner did not reveal how many knives his forces had discovered in their strip-searches of pre-teen girls.
Intrusive and intimidatory
On 20 Nov former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Palmer, who disagrees with strip-searching, said he found Fuller’s comments on police powers “frightening”, and challenged him to a public debate over the use of strip searches.
“Police are given without-warrant powers to stop, search and detain sparingly and with good reason,” Palmer told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Such powers, particularly those involving strip searching, are intrusive and intimidatory. They need to be used prudently and with clear evidence of reasonable cause.”
The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission will launch an inquiry on Dec 2 into claims officers illegally strip-searched several minors at the Lost City under-18s music festival in Olympic Park this year.
Fuller, backed by NSW Premier Premier Gladys Berejiklian, also rejected NSW Deputy Coroner’s recommendation that a pill-testing trial be introduced at music festivals, to screen potentially lethal drugs.
“I’m gravely concerned about the message that pill testing sends to young people about the consumption of illegal substances,” he said in a statement. “Pill testing provides a false confidence to an individual that the drug they want to take is safe. There is no such thing. All illegal substances carry the risk of harming or ultimately killing the user. Most of the harm occurs from drugs people intended to purchase. Pill testing will not reduce this harm.”
Pill testing has been successfully trialled twice in Canberra at two music festivals, in April 2018 and 2019. Revellers submitted small scrapings of their recreational drugs for analysis. Seven samples were found to contain the potentially lethal cathinone n-ethylpentylone, a cheaper substitute for MDMA linked to a number of deaths because it can cause hallucinations, blood circulation problems and dangerous heart palpitations. The pills were destroyed.
For more City Hub stories on police strip-searching, visit: http://cityhubsydney.com.au/?s=strip+searches