Police sniffer dogs will be present at the Mardi Gras parade and party this year, so partygoers are advised to know the laws and know their rights.

Regional Commander Catherine Burn has confirmed the sniffer dogs will be present during the celebration as part of a broader police presence during the festival.

“We will have drug operations around. I’ve told people that’s what’s happening,” Burn said.

The use of sniffer dogs has been strongly questioned by the NSW Ombudsman as well as civil liberties groups in the past, though no changes have been made to legislation as a result of their recommendations.

The 2006 NSW Ombudsman’s Review of the Police Powers (Drug Detection Dogs) Act stated, “Despite the best efforts of police officers, the use of drug detection dogs has proven to be an ineffective tool for detecting drug dealers.

“These findings have led us to question whether the Drugs Dogs Act will ever provide a fair, efficacious and cost-effective tool to target drug supply.

“Given this, we have recommended that the starting point, when considering this report, is to review whether the Drug Dogs Act should be retained at all.”

NSW Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Michael Walton said, “The use of drug detection sniffer dogs in NSW breaches the right of every law-abiding citizen to walk the streets without the police stopping and searching them.

“Over 70 percent of people indicated by dogs do not have any illicit drugs on them. Any policing tool with such a high failure rate should be removed from the streets,” he said.

“But the NSW Government and police continue to ignore the facts because they need to be seen to be doing something about illicit drugs.”

Dog Unit Commander Det Supt Julie Middlemiss said the dogs were just another police tool in the war against drugs.

“Drug detection dogs are deployed within legislation and they are used as another tool to assist operational police,” she said.

“The NSW Police force will continue to thoroughly investigate drug crime to ensure the widespread damage to society and people’s lives, caused by drugs, is minimised.”

Commander Burn said people continued to ignore the drug message.

“Even though we try to get the message out there, [people] are getting detected with supply quantities,” she said.

“Our warnings are for everybody. There are dangers associated with drugs. You don’t know what you are getting. You are really gambling with your life.”

Walton said people shouldn’t panic if they are approached by a sniffer dog.

“You should be polite and cooperate with police. But remember that you have a right to silence. If you do not have drugs on you, then you don’t have to answer police questions and you don’t have to identify yourself,” he said.

“If you do have drugs on you and the police are going to charge or caution you then the law says that you must identify yourself, but you don’t have to say anything else until you’ve seen a lawyer.”

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