ANDREW M. POTTS
New Mardi Gras (NMG) has clocked close to 200 complaints over the “over-the-top” police presence at Sleaze this year.
In an email circular NMG co-chairs Nick Parker and Steph Sands said they would seek urgent meetings with police and politicians to ensure “more proportionate policing” at future events.
“Many of you are angry, not only as attendees of our parties, but also as Australian citizens who feel their rights are being eroded,” it stated.
“You raised particular concerns about the police conducting searches in very public areas, conducting searches without a reasonable level of suspicion and violating the privacy of the medical area. Such behaviour does not accord with the protocols agreed between New Mardi Gras and Police NSW.”
Partygoers were made to run a gauntlet of sniffer dogs and heavy rain to enter the party. Dogs were taken into the venue and on to the dancefloor.
According to witnesses, police strip searched some people in public areas while others were taken to a shed.
Surry Hills LAC’s Supt Donna Adney said she did not believe public searches occurred. But one person searched in the shed told Sydney Star Observer he was asked to remove his clothes in a public area and was only taken to the shed when he refused.
Supt Adney said the individual was not subjected to a body cavity search.
People were also strip searched in a disabled toilet, a police van, and in another shed on site.
Parker said he followed a team of seven officers and a dog for 45 minutes.
“I saw a number of people questioned and detained and led away for searches [but] did not see the dog sit down once,” he said. “In most cases the police that were following people reached out to patrons to question them before the dog gave any indication that seemed to be consistent with a detection.”
Police confirmed 33 people were searched on the night, with 17 charged with drug possession.
“Over-zealous policing has the potential to undermine one of the key events in the NSW calendar,” the NMG email stated. “Because of this we intend to initiate a number of initiatives to seek more proportionate policing in the future, while reaffirming our zero tolerance to intoxication, substance use or other illegal activities.”
THE FULL MESSAGE FROM NMG TO MEMBERS
Message from Nick and Steph
Thank you to the many of you who took part in the Sleaze Ball survey. Well over seven hundred completed it and overall we were delighted with the results.
Your responses clearly identified areas that we have to work on, but the headline figures are very encouraging with 43% saying they thought the party was very good and 41% saying it was good.
Respondents had the opportunity to write in further comments about the party and we received several hundred of these. Approximately half related to the police presence at the party.
This comes as no surprise. Both on the night and in the days that followed the party a major focus of the feedback we received was about the policing of the event, the presence of sniffer dogs on the dance floors and what many of you felt were quite arbitrary searches of our patrons.
Over and over you told us that you felt the police presence was an “invasion of privacy”, “intimidating”, “intrusive” and “over the top”. Your comments make clear that many of you are angry, not only as attendees of our parties, but also as Australian citizens who feel their rights are being eroded and as taxpayers who feel they are witnessing a misallocation of police resources.
You raised particular concerns about the Police conducting searches in very public areas, conducting searches without a reasonable level of suspicion and violating the privacy of the medical area. Such behaviour does not accord with the protocols agreed between New Mardi Gras and Police NSW.
More broadly it is clear that the Police’s increased presence both outside and inside the party is having a major impact on our audience’s enjoyment of this and other events. We make every effort at our parties to create a fantasy world, a place for people to relax and have fun. To have sombre-faced officers in reflective clothing roaming around the dance floor with sniffer dogs clearly makes our task much more difficult.
This is a major issue for New Mardi Gras. Sleaze Ball – like Mardi Gras Party and the Mardi Gras harbour party – are fundraising events for the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. Any impact on ticket sales to these events has a very direct impact on our ability to sustain the Parade, the Mardi Gras Season and organisation as a whole.
Over-zealous policing has the potential to undermine one of the key events in the NSW calendar and one that brings in an estimated $30 million new dollars into the state through overseas and interstate visitation each and every year.
Because of this we intend to initiate a number of initiatives to seek more proportionate policing in the future, whilst reaffirming our zero tolerance to intoxication, substance use or other illegal activities.
We will be raising our concerns in a number of quarters, with our senior police contacts, with the Office of the Lord Mayor, with Events NSW and the Premiers Department representatives we liaise with as a NSW Hallmark event. We will also ask our members and patrons to share their views and experiences with those bodies and their members of parliament.
We have already commenced discussions with community health, legal and rights bodies and we will work with them closely to form a united community front on this issue and instigate additional programs to assure the highest levels of safety and protection for our community at our events.
We will establish a program to ensure our rights are well understood and respected, and we will endeavour to provide volunteers with legal expertise at our events to ensure that members and guests are fully aware of their rights if confronted with intimidating or over-zealous handling by police.
We will also raise the bigger question about the cost and benefit of operations like this. Was the commitment of taxpayer dollars to enforcement at Sleaze Ball worth the 18 minor personal possession offences reportedly recorded?
The Police themselves came out last week to say that Sleaze Ball “was probably the highlight of the night, where behaviour was concerned.” We will be asking the Police to match this behaviour with less intrusive police operations based on the presumption of innocence of our patrons and a respect for our rights and for published protocols.
Finally, if you would like to volunteer your legal or other skills to assist in this rights protection initiative, or wish to share your experience of policing at our parties or elsewhere around the world please email us at[email protected].
Steph and Nick, on behalf of the NMG Board