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“Little Regard For The Law”: Experts Slam Rise In Strip Searches By NSW Police

"Forcing teenagers to remove their clothes in the back of police vans does not make the community safer."

Sniffer dogs procedure strip search

New research has revealed an alarming increase in the use of strip searches by NSW Police, including widespread unlawful strip searches and unnecessary searches propelled by the use of drug dogs.

A new report commissioned by Redfern Legal Centre and prepared by UNSW Law academics shows that NSW Police use of strip searches has increased almost twentyfold over the past 12 years. As in, police conducted 277 strip searches in the 12 months leading up to November 2006, compared to 5483 strip searches in the 12 months to June 2018. That’s an average of 15 strip searches per day.

The report also found that just 30 percent of strip searches conducted in the 2017-18 financial year resulted in a criminal charge, and suggested that the use of drug dogs may be fuelling unnecessary strip searches. Ninety-one percent of all recorded reasons for conducting a strip search is simply police suspicion that a person possesses prohibited drugs.

Close to half (45 percent) of all recorded strip searches in the 2017-18 financial year were of people 25 years old or younger, and the report found that the law is failing to protect children from being searched. Indigenous people made up 10 percent of all recorded strip searches in the field, and 22 percent of strip searches in custody, despite making up 2.9 percent of the NSW population.

Report authors Dr Michael Grewcock and Dr Vicki Sentas found this pretty concerning, saying that the law must be clearer about when and how police conduct strip searches.

“Our research suggests that NSW Police are using strip searches routinely with little regard for the law and their own internal guidelines,” Dr Grewcock said. “We need greater transparency and accountability regarding these practices.”

Co-author Dr Sentas agreed, pointing out that most strip searches yield little evidence, but can be traumatic for the person being searched.

“Saturation policing with sniffer dogs at music festivals and railway stations or forcing teenagers to remove their clothes in the back of police vans does not make the community safer,” she said. “We need a serious discussion about how best to reform the law so that the police cannot abuse their powers.”

The report recommends changes to the law to clarify when and how police conduct strip searches, prohibit strip searches of children without a court order, and make clear that police cannot search genitals or breasts.

As Redfern Legal Centre solicitor Samantha Lee put it, strip searches were meant to be a last resort, but police aren’t treating them that way.

“Strip searches are an invasive, humiliating and harmful process, and as such, should be only used in exceptional circumstances when no other alternative is available,” she said.

You can read the full report here.