Sniffer dogs are on the nose. Photo: Garry Knight Flickr

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BY MICHAEL HITCH

It’s not just you; it seems that everyone’s got a bone to pick with sniffer dogs.

New research has proven that deploying drug detection dogs at festivals and public places encourages dangerous drug consumption.

The study, conducted by RMIT University, not only found that sniffer dog presence increases unsafe drug practices, but also has the potential to cause lasting trauma.

Despite the inaccuracy of sniffer dog detections, the practice has been severely ramped up with an increased presence at both music festivals and train stations.

Lead researcher of the study, Dr Peta Malins, said that the increased deployment of sniffer dogs was directly causing a rise in unsafe drug consumption practices, an unnecessary price to pay for a practice that only helps police to be “seen”.

“People I spoke to were choosing to still take their preferred substances in higher quantities prior to going past the dogs, stashing them in vaginal or anal cavities, or waiting to purchase drugs from unknown suppliers inside events,” she said.

“Police tend to find drugs on only approximately one quarter of the people the dogs identify in these contexts, and even police protocols seem to acknowledge that a dog identification may not itself, alone, necessarily constitute sufficient reasonable grounds.

“Despite evidence showing they do not effectively deter people from using drugs, and instead increase risks of harm, the sniffer dog operations continue to expand around Australia. I think that the sniffer dog operations are a very visible way for police to be “seen” to be doing something about drugs.”

Stigma and shame

The report also found that as well as igniting stigma and shame, especially for people in marginalised groups, sniffer searches also induced significant mental health concerns such as distress and anxiety.

Shelley Smith, a spokesperson from the Ted Noffs Foundation which launched the Take Control Campaign, said that these operations rely on profiling tactics and are destroying relationships between police and the community.

“We know that a lot of profiling goes into it. Police are more likely to stop young people, people of colour, Indigenous people, people who look like they’re someone who uses drugs. So, it’s heavily biased in the first place.

“This is quite violating and yeah, people who may have had bad run-ins with the police or dogs or anything like that, it can be quite traumatising and damaging on mental health.

“I just think it contributes to an overall feeling, not of safety, which is what the police are ideally there for, but just making people feel more unsafe.”

President and Co-Founder of Harm Reduction Australia, Gino Vumbaca, said that while sniffer dogs are used to uphold a health and safety standard, these dog deployments lack a “real world” approach.

“There’s this view that people shouldn’t use drugs and that’s true. But Harm Reduction Australia operates in the real world… we know that people will still take risks, people will consume drugs and what we want to make sure of is that this doesn’t end up in a tragic event.”