Jenny Leong MP

NSW Police drug program: The dogs don’t work

Greens MP Jenny Leong recently announced a bill that would repeal the powers of drug dog searches in NSW, and below she explains why.

Why have successive NSW Governments insisted on funding a program that consistently fails to deliver results, leads to harassment and intimidation of innocent people, and has been recommended by the NSW Ombudsman to be discontinued?

The NSW Police Drug Dog Detection Program is a classic example of a Government pumping public money into a program that doesn’t work, simply so that they can look tough in the ‘war on drugs’.

The program returns a large number of ‘false positives’ – getting it wrong about three-quarters of the time. Between 1 January 2014 and 18 May 2015 in 3,948 of the 4,925 searches conducted, people were subjected to intrusive public searches, despite the fact that they were not carrying any drugs and had done nothing wrong.

But it’s not just the current statistics that point to the failure of this program.

A 2006 report by the NSW Ombudsman recommended the immediate end to the program. Many health, justice, and legal experts have also expressed serious concerns at the impact that this ineffective program has on people’s rights and civil liberties.

Another concerning element is the blatant targeting of particular communities. Data obtained by my Greens parliamentary colleague and Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge’s office have shown that you are six and a half times more likely to be searched by a sniffer dog at Redfern train station than at Central – even though searches at Redfern are less likely to result in drugs being found.

It needs to be asked – why have successive NSW governments arrogantly continued to fund unjustified drug searches with the use of sniffer dogs?

It also needs to be asked – why is the search rate so high in Redfern?

Redfern is an area with a strong and proud connection with Sydney’s Aboriginal community – who have consistently faced the brunt of over-policing and disproportionate law and order agendas.

It is also home to a high proportion of young people and students and Redfern station is used by many who live in nearby public and community housing – all of which are more likely to struggle to find the resources to fight state-sanctioned harassment and intimidation.

The impact of this intimidation from the use of sniffer dogs and large groups of police in our public spaces – at train stations, music festivals, community gatherings and social spaces, like our local pubs– has broader implications of our society and our ability to live in a community where we feel safe.

At a community forum in Redfern in December 2014, I made a commitment that if elected as the Member for Newtown, I would introduce a bill to repeal the drug dog detection police powers in NSW.

Last week I gave notice of this bill and expect it to be debated in March.

Governments should not be using police to inflict intimidating practices on citizens for political means – or to advance a specific political agenda. It’s apparent that this is happening in the case of the drug dog detection program, as there is clear evidence that this program doesn’t work.

It is disappointingly just one of many examples of the transition of our police service into a police force.

There are significant implications of this – when people have experienced intimidation or harassment at the hands of police, do they think twice before they call police if they need help?

How does this serve our community?

We need to see a commitment to evidence-based, community policing in NSW – where the police are a public service NOT a force with extraordinary powers, guns and tasers. And we need to see an end to the law and order, ‘war on drugs’ debacle of a policy, moving instead towards a strengthening of a harm minimisation approach to drugs.

 

Jenny Leong MP

Jenny Leong is the State Member for the Electorate of Newtown in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Jenny was elected to parliament at the NSW state election on 28 March 2015 and is the first person to represent the seat of Newtown in its current form. Prior to joining Parliament, Jenny worked for a number of years with Amnesty International as a crisis coordinator and campaign manager, and also at the Australia Council for the Arts.

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