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Dogs Know Best – Perhaps Not

Written by Patrick Abboud on December 13, 2011

How many times have you had a dog sniffing up your leg at the entrance to a gig or while waiting for a train and been harassed by cops as a result? Well Greens MP David Shoebridge reckons it’s about 40 times a day on average in NSW alone. He’s now calling for sniffer dog operations to be stopped.

New figures released by the State Government show that the canines are often mistaken. This year NSW Police have conducted more than 14,000 searches on people after sniffer dogs reacted to the potential presence of illegal drugs. In over 11,000 of those cases, illicit substances were not found, meaning that 4 times out of 5 our furry friends are getting it wrong – the dogs that is.

Mr Shoebridge says, “No test which has an 80 percent error rate could be considered a reasonable basis on which to conduct an intrusive public search of a citizen going about their daily business”.

Sniffer dogs operate on the street, on trains, at festivals, even in pubs. If dogs react, cops usually conduct a search on the spot. In some cases, subjects may be taken into private rooms to undergo a full strip search. The NSW Council for Civil Liberties says it receives several complaints from the public who claim to have been subjected to humiliating searches. Stephen Blanks is the organisations president, “We get a lot of complaints from young people in particular that have had incidents at music festivals”. He emailed MusicFeeds this complaint that came from a punter at last week’s Homebake Festival in the Sydney Domain.

I had an altercation today with NSW Police sniffer dog at Homebake in the domain Sydney. The dog allegedly detected drugs on my person. I was then escorted in front of the public towards another area to be searched. The two officers that escorted repeated stated “why are you nervous”. I felt ridiculed in public even after I stated that I was not carrying anything. The officers in question searched me and repeated accused me of carrying drugs. They searched me in the open without any offer of privacy. My details were written down and I was not informed why initially. The officer who searched me left my belongings on the ground and were very rude. As I was escorted back to the entry gates the officer did not give me any information as to why my details were still taken down. I then asked another officer why they were (written down), he then proceeded to tell me that it was in case I complained. The handling of this problem was unprofessional and publicly embarrassing for me. The same dog then proceeded to sniff me and the handler then asked me to go and be searched again, upon which I informed the officer I had already been searched. The officer then just walked off and did not say anything. I would appreciate this issue to be resolved, as it is unacceptable and inappropriate. I was informed by another member of the public, this same issue occurred to him also.

“This is the typical sort of experience we see in many of the complaints we get,” Mr Blanks said.

Last financial year, drug detection dogs cost the NSW Govt $878,000 and police maintain that sniffer dogs are effective because they act as a deterrent and should remain a valuable policing tool.

Inspector Chris Condon of the NSW Police dog unit told ABC News Online today that detection dogs are extremely accurate. He says more than 80 per cent of indications by the dogs “result in either drugs being located or the person admitting recent contact with illegal drugs” and that “any suggestion otherwise is incorrect”.

He continued “Drug detection dogs are an important facet of the overall harm-minimisation strategy of the NSW Police Force”.

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