Australia

Controversial sniffer dogs plan kicks in as festival-goers urged to report incidents

A police officer and sniffer dog patrolling St Leonards train station. Source: Facebook

New South Wales Police are being warned that they could be taken to court again next week over their sniffer dog policy at a Sydney music festival.

A controversial sniffer dogs plan announced by New South Wales Police earlier this week is being enforced at a Sydney music festival, with festival-goers being urged to report incidents of a denial of entry into the event because of sniffer dog drug detection.

The New South Wales Greens party say they will be monitoring the police's enforcement of a policy they announced on Tuesday.

Officers will be using sniffer dogs to detect the presence of drugs at Saturday night's 'Above & Beyond' festival at Sydney Olympic Park.

The dogs will be used to "exclude any person from the venue that the drug dog indicates has or who has recently had drugs on them, regardless of whether drugs are located".

NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong speaks outside court.
NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong speaks outside court.
Facebook

“Quite simply, if you handle or use drugs you will not be permitted to remain at the venue," NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Peter Thurtell said.

Festivalgoers are being urged to report instances of being turned away from 'Above & Beyond' festival via a social media campaign run by the Greens party.

"If NSW police go ahead with their plan to deny entry to people at 'Above and Beyond' even after a false positive, we'll be seeing them back in court next week," according to the Sniff Off campaign posted on their Facebook page.

Greens MP David Shoebridge said the violation of civil liberties is not justified by the party's analysis of the effectiveness of the policy.

Data obtained from the Newcastle Local Area Command and across the Central Hunter between 2014 and 2017 found that in 75 per cent of sniffer dog cases drugs were not found.

Legal bid to stop sniffer dog policy fails

A legal bid to stop the sniffer dog policy on Friday failed.

Supreme Court Justice Michael Pembroke on Friday said the plaintiffs didn't have cause to complain about alleged injustices in advance.

"We don't waste our time with hypothetical issues like that," he said.

Two young partygoers, backed by the NSW Greens, filed the case but were told on Friday their case was likely to be dismissed before an application for an injunction had even been filed.

Speaking outside the court, NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong said the sniffer dog policy is ineffective and an overreach of police powers.

"If the NSW Police wanted people to be safe at festivals they would be advocates of pill testing, they would be stopping the war on drugs and they would be supporting a harm-minimisation approach," she said.

'People have overdosed'

Plaintiff Tom Raue said there are more effective ways to tackle the drugs problem, including the use of amnesty bins at concerts and controlling the regulation of the supply of party drugs.

He said he had seen firsthand the unintended consequences of the use of sniffer dogs.

"People have overdosed after seeing drug dogs approach them. They take a weekend's worth of pills at once," he said.

Mr Raue said punters singled out by sniffer dogs had been told to strip naked, lift up their breasts or scrotum, made to bend over and have a torch shone in their cavities.

"That's a massive violation of your civil liberties," he said.

Former commissioner of the Australian Border Force, Roman Quaedvlieg, who spent more than three decades in drug enforcement, dubbed the police move "extraordinary".

"Festival drugs are risky granted but a person can have minute drug traces from handling cash, infused into garment fabric etc," he posted on Twitter earlier this week.

"Using an 'indication', as they call it, to ban entry into a social event is too much."

A 2006 report by the NSW Ombudsman found the use of drug dogs to be an "ineffective tool for detecting drug dealers".

"Overwhelmingly, the use of drug detection dogs has led to public searches of individuals in which no drugs were found, or to the detection of (mostly young) adults in possession of very small amounts of cannabis for personal use," the report said.

- with AAP

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