Australia

NSW Police Force defends personal search quota system

New South Wales Police badges are seen in Sydney, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. Source: AAP

NSW police conducted more than 238,000 personal searches, including strip searches, in 2018-19.

The NSW Police Force has defended setting personal search targets after it was revealed almost a quarter of a million people in the state were searched last financial year.

Documents obtained under freedom of information laws by NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge revealed police had set a goal to conduct 241,632 personal searches across the state, as part of the Command Performance Accountability System (COMPASS).

They came close to achieving that carrying out more than 238,900 personal searches, which include standard "frisk" searches and strip searches, in 2018-19.

In a statement on Thursday, NSW Police Force said it “deploys various proactive strategies as part of an ongoing commitment to reducing crime and the fear of crime in the community”.

“Proactive policing strategies, including the use of police powers such as searches and move-on directions, have been proven to significantly drive down crime,” the statement said.

“Every police area and police district commander is accountable for a range of performance measures, including proactive policing, which are also presented to the executive twice a year as part of the Command Performance Accountability System.

Under the NSW Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act, any time an officer executes search powers, they must hold a reasonable suspicion.

“A search cannot be conducted if this criteria is not met.”

Mr Shoebridge said it was "dreadful" searches were being performed simply to meet quotas.

"Personal searches can be traumatising and are only meant to be undertaken when police are satisfied they are necessary," he said.

The Redfern Legal Centre in Sydney has written to the NSW Auditor-General called for an investigation into whether the targets influence the number of searches. 

"Innocent people are being caught up in these stop and searches. They have done nothing wrong,” solicitor Samantha Lee said.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is seeking formal advice on the matter.

When asked if a quota system was appropriate Ms Berejiklian said it was a matter for NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller.

Additional reporting by Charlotte Lam, AAP

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