By JAMES HARRISON
The NSW Greens have proposed reforms to strip-search and drug dog laws, banning police from strip-searching those under 16 who are not under arrest and forcing people to “squat and cough” during a physical examination.
The reform creates a clear definition of a strip-search and limits instances of strip-searching to when there is an immediate risk to a person’s life and safety, alongside restricting the use of drug detection dogs to circumstances when police have a court warrant.
The call for reform follows NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge’s request for the 2018-2019 financial year strip-search data from NSW Police. This data revealed approximately two-thirds of strip-searches did not result in prosecution, and less than 0.5% of alleged drug detection by a drug-sniffing dog lead to actual drug discoveries, with the lowest prosecution rate in seven years.
“Both of the programs we’re looking to reform, the drug dog program and the strip-search powers of the police, are both being used to grossly breach peoples sense of personal security and their civil rights and both of these programs deliver a level of police abuse that is out of all proportion from the crimes that they’re policing,” said Shoebridge.
This concern followed NSW Deputy Coroner Harriet Grahame questioning the ethical practice of strip-searches, particularly when enacted against youth, and describing the targeting as “out of line with the purpose,” of the legislation.
“The police are quite often bailing up teenagers, 14 or 15 year-olds, and partially undressing them on the street, lifting up their shirts looking down their pants, and they’re not recording those as strip-searches, and one of the reasons they’re getting away with that is because there’s not a functioning definition of strip-searches in the act.
“(The police) have proven through their own statistics to be woefully inadequate in those large-scale screening operations, which they’re primarily used for. Which is why our proposed reforms require the police to tell a magistrate about the false positive rates and the lack of success of drug dog operations on prior success,” said Shoebridge.
This proposed reform takes place alongside the NSW Greens’ drug policies, which include the legalisation of MDMA and cannabis and the distribution of these drugs by government agencies. NSW Greens do not want big pharmaceutical companies to capitalise on this.
“If we legalised cannabis and MDMA the notional purpose that the police use for drug dog operations and the thousands and thousands of strip-searches they use would largely fall away,” said Shoebridge. “It wouldn’t resolve policing for other classes of drugs, but it would take the wind out of its sail.
“These reforms are in the context of The Greens supporting significant drug law reform as well, including the legalisation of both cannabis and MDMA,” he continued. “If we had regulated legalised supply of both of those drugs, a lot of the overt criminalisation of drug use would fall away. However, these reforms are not dependant on the legalisation of cannabis and MDMA.”