The NSW Council for Civil Liberties president has called for police to get rid of drug sniffer dogs so that resources can be channelled into prosecuting violent crime.
Civil Liberties Council president Cameron Murphy has made the call on the eve of the 2010 Mardi Gras Festival — an event expected to draw attention following a police raid on Sleaze Ball last year.
“I’d like to see them stop the use of drug sniffing dogs. I’d rather see them spend the enormous resources involved in dealing with more serious categories of crime,” he said.
Murphy said most people weren’t aware how much money the sniffer dog program was costing taxpayers.
“Every dog costs upwards of half a million dollars in order to breed, train and house, and have a handler allocated to the dog,” he said.
“There are many unsolved murders, rapes and other serious offences out there that deserve those police resources which are being wasted on this exercise.
“Serious drug dealers simply don’t carry large quantities of drugs on them on the public transport system or to dance events, so it’s ludicrous to suggest you’re going to be able to capture the Mr Bigs of the drug business utilising this process.”
However, Murphy said more worrying was that sniffer dog operations were changing the way drug users took drugs, which could have implications for their health.
“The same number of people are continuing to use recreational drugs, but evidence suggests that they’re using them in a different way — they’re taking drugs before they arrive at venues and in some cases they’re taking larger quantities than they would usually take, or that is safe, in order to avoid detection,” he said.
“We’ve had overdoses because people consume all the drugs they have on them at once in order to avoid arrest and prosecution. It’s a massive health risk.”
Inner City Legal Centre principal solicitor Ros Mayne said even without sniffer dogs, police have a general power to stop, search and detain anyone without a warrant if they have a reasonable suspicion a person is carrying drugs or anything else dangerous or unlawful is in their possession.
Sniffer dogs may be used by police in and around areas where alcohol is being sold, at bus stops, train stations or on public transport, and at public events such as concerts, dance parties and parades.
Mayne said if a sniffer dog indicates you they may search you. If you move away from the dogs police may see this as reasonable grounds to suspect you of carrying prohibited items and use this as justification for a search.
In the case of searches that involve the removal of clothing police should conduct the search in private or where no one of the opposite sex can see you and the officer searching you should be of your gender — this applies only as far as it is reasonably practical.
For this kind of search, Mayne said police must believe there are reasonable grounds and that the seriousness and urgency of the circumstances require a strip search.
Police may ask you to open your mouth or move your hair, however, they need you to give your consent or obtain a court order before they can perform a search of any other body cavity.
Police must allow you to dress as soon as a search is over.