By James Elton-Pym
Gay legal groups received “significantly more” complaints about police conduct at this year’s Mardi Gras parade than at the 2014 event, the head of the Inner City Legal Centre has reported.
Despite police saying crowds were mostly well behaved, the centre will be engaging criminal lawyers to provide advice to aggrieved parade attendees this week.
“[There were] more people this year, a lot more people this year, with concerns about police conduct,” director of the centre Dan Stubbs said.
Mr Stubbs said the nature and severity of the complaints were not yet clear and could not be revealed before they had been investigated.
Gay rights campaigners were filming police drug dog operations and distributing “know your rights” cards outside the Moore Park after-party on Saturday night.
More than 800 extra police officers patrolled the parade area as part of Operation Northcote. They arrested 30 people, including a 56-year-old man for allegedly indecently assaulting two young women and a 30-year-old man for assaulting a police officer.
Mr Stubbs said the number of police was disproportionate to the safety of the event.
“People do find it intimidating and its not a dangerous event. In fact it’s the safest event in the city all year … especially when you compare it to Future Music or Stereo,” he said.
Scrutiny of police behaviour at the parade has been heightened since conflict between festival-goers and police reached a flashpoint in 2013.
“In 2013 there were 50-60 complaints about police heavy-handedness, inappropriate drug searches, inappropriate decency patrols and aggression,” convenor of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby Justin Koonin said.
He said in comparison there were just “a handful” of complaints last year, and Mr Stubbs said police exercised “best practice” in 2014.
Detective Superintendent Tony Crandell, the NSW Police sexuality and gender spokesperson, has been working to rebuild trust between police and parade-goers since conflict reached a flashpoint in 2013.
One of the main changes he introduced was using police from the inner city to monitor the parade.
“I wouldn’t necessarily deploy my police to Bathurst to do the Bathurst car races because they wouldn’t understand that community,” Superintendent Crandell said, speaking on the Friday before Mardi Gras.
“So I wanted to apply that to the LGBTI community and say, well, let’s get some police that police that community everyday.”
Mr Koonin, also speaking the day before the parade, said the gay lobby was ready to spring into action were complaints raised against the police.
“We hope it doesn’t happen, but we’re ready if it does,” he said.
One of his main concerns was the heavy use of drug detection dogs outside the major after-party in Moore Park.
“If they’re there to crack down on drug dealing, the number of searches they have to do is astronomically large,” adding that dog searches often yielded small quantities of illegal drugs.