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Sniffer dogs criticised as false positives revealed

Official police figures in New South Wales reveal drug detection dogs were wrong in almost two thirds of strip searches last year

By Molly Long on 30 Jul 2018

Sniffer dogs at a train station in NSW

Campaign group Sniff Off frequently post warnings of drug dog locations on their Facebook page


image © Sniff Off Facebook

The use of sniffer dogs at music festivals has come into question again in New South Wales, after data released by police revealed the huge extent of false positives made by the animals leading to strip and general searches.

Figures were made public after Green party politician David Shoebridge questioned the effectiveness of sniffer dog programs. In May this year, he was contacted by constituents who had been turned away from Midnight Mafia, a music festival in Sydney, after wrongly being singled out by dogs. Despite finding no drugs on the festivalgoers, they were barred from the event.

A similar policy was adopted for last month’s Above & Beyond, another Sydney-based festival. NSW police warned prospective festivalgoers that they would be turned away if a sniffer dog made any indication, regardless of if drugs were actually found or not.

The release of the new information has prompted outrage from politicians and media – outrage made even worse by the New South Wales Police Department’s (NSWPD) lack of information regarding the cost of sniffer dog programmes for the taxpayer.

“These aggressive searches are all about PR, about the police being seen to do something on the failing war on drugs.”

Mr Shoebridge called the failed searches an abuse of rights. “Any other government program that gets it wrong almost two-thirds of the time would be immediately halted,” he comments.

“These aggressive searches are all about PR, about the police being seen to do something on the failing war on drugs.”

According to the numbers for strip searches last year, sniffer dogs made 1,124 indications to NSW police. Of these, just 406 successfully identified a person carrying drugs – a 64% failure rate. General searches proved just as unsuccessful. 2017 saw 3,954 out of 10,224 general searches indicated by dogs turn up positive results – a 61% failure rate.

Numbers look no better for the start of 2018, either. The current failure rate for strip searches stands at 56% and at 63% for general searches in the first six months of the year.

Backed by Shoebridge and the Green party in NSW, the Sniff Off campaign group has opposed the police use of sniffer dogs since 2002. It labels the program as “excellent at violating civil liberties,” particularly those of “young people, Aboriginal communities and the poor.” Responding to the new figures on their Facebook page, the group called on Gladys Berejiklian, the current NSW premier and leader of the Liberal Party, to “get rid of the drug dog program for good.”

 


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