By Jessica Yun
The Greens NSW launched their ‘Sniff Off’ campaign and drug dog repeal bill last Saturday May 30 with a party at Marrickville’s Red Rattler Theatre.
The Law Enforcement Amendment (Sniffer Dogs—Repeal of Powers) Bill 2015 will look to repeal sections of the current Drug Dog Act that allows for drug detection dogs to search members of the public in public spaces without a warrant.
According to statistics cited by NSW Police, Greens NSW and reports by the NSW Ombudsman, only 26 percent of those searched by drug detection dogs proved successful, meaning almost three quarters of all indications did not find the person in possession of prohibited drugs.
Greens MP and Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge said he was supportive of several uses for drug detection dogs, but was against dogs being used “in a complete carte blanche fashion against the general populace”.
“There’s no doubt that if you screen absolutely everybody with drug dogs and you search them and you infringe their civil liberties, you’ll find some drugs,” he said.
“But that’s not the way our society is meant to operate. We don’t just shake down every citizen and see whether or not they’re guilty. The police are actually meant to have actual criminal intelligence before they engage in a very intrusive and often humiliating public search of us on the streets.”
Mr Shoebridge explained that throwing a ‘dance party’ to launch the bill was aimed at engaging young people, the main demographic to attend and be searched at music festivals.
“We wanted to do something other than just your standard press conference in order to engage with our supporters … and get the word out about just how wrong headed the drug dog program was,” he said.
“One of the other reasons why we decided that a dance party was a good way of doing it was we were getting good support from the music industry.”
Several professionals in the music industry have openly supported the Greens’ Sniff Off campaign include Dan McNamee from Art vs Science as well as Paul Mac, who performed at the party last weekend.
Mr McNamee said the presence of drug detection dogs in music festivals was not a sufficient deterrent for those deciding to take drugs. In fact, he observed that many were engaging in riskier practices in order to avoid detection.
“The dogs encourage ‘Binge Dosing’ – with many people taking some if not all of their drugs before arriving at the festival. I’ve certainly seen a rise in the amount of supremely munted people in some crowds – it’s not because the drugs are getting stronger – it’s because double dumping before heading into a festival is becoming the norm, because it’s simply too dangerous to bring the drugs in and take them sensibly,” he said in a statement.
Statements from NSW Police defended the use of drug dogs in public spaces as “very effective.”
“Drug Detection Dogs have a strong deterrence factor: in addition to the seizure of prohibited drugs from dealers and users, individuals regularly dump these drugs upon seeing the dogs. These drugs are not consumed and therefore the significant risk of harm avoided. The prevention of a death of a person through Drug Detection Dog deployment is immeasurable,” a NSW Police spokesperson said.
But, Mr McNamee also advocated for a more holistic integration between police and the public.
“I invited the police down into the crowd to dance to our song Flippers. About half of them came running down and the crowd surged out to meet them … It was one of the most beautiful moments of my career.”