Sydney state MP Alex Greenwich has criticised the widespread use of police sniffer dogs and called for existing drugs laws to be scrutinised.
Speaking in state Parliament last month, Greenwich criticised the heavy presence of sniffer dog teams at this year’s Mardi Gras and raised multiple allegations made by party-goers of “public strip searches and searches without reasonable suspicion of possession” by police.
“It is time to start a community conversation about drug law reform and evidence-based drug strategies. While drug detection dog operations are seen as a visible response to illegal drug activity, I am concerned that often they are an ineffective approach,” Greenwich said.
The use of police dogs at Mardi Gras events drew condemnation from LGBTI community leaders after former Mardi Gras party director Gary Leeson was patted down and publicly strip-searched by officers after being approached by a sniffer dog at Harbour Party in February.
“The cops took me to a little enclosure and ended up conducting a strip-search. I complained and I feel they are taking it quite seriously,” Leeson said.
A 2006 NSW Ombudsman report found that almost three quarters of dog-initiated searches found no drugs and called the use of sniffer dogs an “ineffective tool for detecting drug dealers,” concluding that they overwhelmingly led to “public searches of individuals in which no drugs were found” and questioning whether the practise “should be retained at all”.
Leeson claims his search was not logged on-record by the officers who initiated it because it failed to turn up any drugs, suggesting the accuracy rate is likely to be even lower than the Ombudsman’s findings.
Despite the Ombudsman’s recommendations the state government expanded the powers of sniffer dog teams in October, authorising police officers to search without warrant using the dogs in public places in Kings Cross and on all Cityrail train lines.
Greenwich also highlighted community concerns over the transparency of internal police investigations announced in the aftermath of the controversial arrests of Bryn Hutchison and Jamie Jackson over the Mardi Gras weekend.
“Police should not be investigated by police. We need a complaints system that both police and the community can trust,” he said.