The NSW Greens have introduced a bill in State Parliament seeking to radically reform the use of strip searches and drug detection dogs by NSW Police, just days after it was revealed 96 children were strip searched in the state over the past year.
Greens MLC David Shoebridge revealed their proposed amendment to the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act, which aims to ban the strip searches of anyone under 16, and calls for minors aged 16 and 17 to be searched “only in exceptional circumstances.”
As it stands, NSW Police are empowered to conduct strip searches on people as young as ten. Official NSW Police figures recently obtained by the Redfern Legal Centre show that almost 100 minors were strip searched over recent months, including an 11-year-old Indigenous boy.
The bill calls for further restrictions on when strip searches can be used, the abolition of any quotas related to their use, and the admission that, as strip searches are an invasive procedure, people cannot technically offer their consent.
Drug detection dogs – sniffer dogs, that is – are also targeted by the bill, which demands an end to their use in personal searches.
Get ready for something a bit different today – we’re introducing a bill to wind back some oppressive police powers. It’s happening around the world, now it’s time for NSW to step up ???? #nswpol pic.twitter.com/X8gGLqquZY— David Shoebridge (@ShoebridgeMLC) November 10, 2020
“Even if you’re ok with monstering people, the basic fact is: drug dogs just don’t work,” Shoebridge, a longtime critic of strip searching minors, told the Legislative Council today.
“You’re highly unlikely to catch organised crime gangs by strip searching teenagers at train stations and music festivals,” he added.
The bill will have its second reading on Monday.
That legislative push comes several months after the NSW Police watchdog, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC), released its findings on a number of shocking incidents involving the strip searches of minors at music festivals.
The LECC heard how a 16-year-old girl was forced to undertake a strip search at Byron Bay’s Splendour In The Grass festival in 2018, an experience which she said left her “completely humiliated.”
In a separate incident, the investigation heard how three boys, aged between 15 and 17, were strip searched at Lost City music festival in 2019.
The LECC ruled that police had acted unlawfully in those four incidents, as they made no attempt to contact the minors’ parents or guardians, as is required by law.
Despite the harrowing evidence heard by the commission, NSW Police Minister David Elliott said at the time that he’d want his own children strip searched “if I thought the police felt they were at risk of doing something wrong”.
But The Guardian points out that the use of strip searches has actually decreased over the past year, with the cancellation of most major music festivals over coronavirus concerns circled as the likely cause.
In a statement provided to the outlet earlier this month, a NSW Police spokesperson said a “number of changes to policies, processes and training” around strip searches had come into play.
If the Greens’ bill has enough of an impact, those manuals might need another re-write.