A surprise police strike on Oxford Street pubs last weekend signalled the full steam ahead return of random sniffer dogs searches on the public, as police implemented sweeping new government-sanctioned search powers.
The raids this week were condemned by Independent member for Bligh Clover Moore, ACON president Adrian Lovney and were described as terrifying by one of the patrons searched.
A team of seven uniformed police officers accompanied by a drug detection dog and its handler raided four popular gay venues on Friday and Saturday night and subjected numerous patrons to drug searches.
Crime manager for Surry Hills police, Detective Inspec-tor Peter Lennon told Sydney Star Observer this week that nine people had been charged with drug-related offences as a result of the raids.
As long as we continue to receive intelligence that people are taking or selling drugs in clubs then these searches will be continuing, Lennon said. Drugs are unfortunately prevalent in our community and the nightclubs seem to be places where a lot of drug activity takes place.
However, Lovney slammed the weekend operation by labelling it an example of lazy policing.
What exactly is this intelligence that police claim to be acting on here? The way the police are handling this is just an easy cop-out. It’s just show policing, Lovney told the Star.
The dogs aren’t being taken into North Shore [venues], they’re being taken into our community and we want to know why. If there is police intelligence that is being acted on then we want to know what it is.
NSW police dog unit commander, Chief Inspector Peter Crumblin told the Star that police are acting on new search powers that came into effect on 22 February, allowing random drug searches in venues and on public transport.
Yes, it is full steam ahead for dog operations, Crum-blin said. The detection dogs will be issued to local police area commands at their request. The only advice we would give to the public if they are approached by the dog is to continue doing what they were doing. If you have a problem with the search, take it to the police -“ do not take it out on the dogs.
Clover Moore told the Star that she has been working closely with Surry Hills police over the sniffer dogs issue because of concerns at how the searches were affecting people in the Bligh electorate.
That is why I was so shocked to hear of the raids on the weekend. I do not believe the police should be acting on the new powers yet because we are not certain of the impact these operations are having on the community, Moore said.
The Oxford Street raids started at approximately 8pm on Friday night after the police search team entered Kinselas’ main bar and escorted three patrons onto the street for clothing searches after they were identified by the detection dog.
The operation then moved on to The Oxford, where two patrons were searched and The Exchange where more searches were conducted. Another Oxford Street gay venue was searched on Friday night but management did not want it to be identified.
One person searched by police on the weekend told the Star of his experience, but wanted to remain anonymous out of concerns he would attract trouble for himself for speaking out.
Even though I had nothing on me I found the experience terrifying. There was a lot of police around me and they were searching me out on the street. After that it just became embarrassing because the search attracted a crowd of people who were watching, said the witness.
I feel outraged that I could be subjected to that in public. Especially now in the lead up to the Gay Games we should be trying to encourage people to come to the area and instead we have this intimidating police presence looming over the public.
Despite police assertions that nine people were charged, venue managers and a number of eyewitnesses maintain that while numerous patrons were taken outside for searches, all were allowed to return to the venues after police discovered no drugs on them.
I like to think that we run a clean venue by the law. As such, we shouldn’t have a problem with police doing their job, Terry Percy, venue manager at The Oxford Hotel told the Star. From another perspective, no one was found to have drugs on them here and I don’t think it’s particularly conducive to a good night out for customers to be faced with dogs coming through the pub and searching them willy-nilly.
Kinselas’ general manager Steve Ryan and a manager at The Exchange also maintained that none of their patrons were found to have illegal drugs on them during the searches.
Legislation granting police extensive powers to use sniffer dogs in public was rushed through state parliament last December, attracting strong criticism from politicians and community leaders.
Independent member Clo-ver Moore stood against the legislation in parliament, calling it tough on police re-sources, not tough on crime.
Moore this week asserted that police should not conduct random public searches until NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour has completed a review of the legislation.
This is not the appropriate time to be conducting random searches. The ombudsman is yet to determine the best way forward with regard to how the dogs are managed in public and I am very surprised that the police have decided to go ahead with this sort of operation, regardless of that fact, Moore said.
The AIDS Council of NSW and the NSW ombudsman’s office urged people who have been searched in sniffer dog operations to come forward an submit their experiences to the ombudsman’s review.
Right now the police are claiming that the dogs are successful and that is why we need people to come forward to submit their experiences and their views to the ombudsman, Lovney said.
The only way that we can get the other side of the story across is if people come forward, because otherwise these dogs are going to become a way of life.
Anyone interested in participating in the review can contact Stephen Gallagher, policy officer at ACON on 9206 2020.