There has been a massive rise in strip searches by New South Wales police, often without legal grounds, a new report shows.
As The Guardian reports, a study published by the University of NSW and commissioned by Redfern Legal Centre reveals that the number of strip searches conducted in NSW has risen to a staggering 5483 in 2017/2018, up from just 277 in 2014/2015.
Redfern Legal Centre solicitor Samantha Lee said the “extraordinary rise” demonstrated that the laws were “not being applied as parliament intended – as a last resort.”
The report warns that unlawful use of the practice is “potentially widespread” due to the imprecise legal thresholds defining when an officer is able to conduct a search. NSW Police are able to conduct a strip search outside a police station if the “seriousness and urgency of the circumstances” make it necessary, but the report argues that the “broadly defined” rules don’t give police clear boundaries on when a strip search should be carried out.
It also cites evidence of officers using invasive searches to “punish and humiliate” people, claiming police use strip searches to “intimidate targeted groups in the knowledge that there is rarely a serious sanction in the event of an unlawful or improper exercise of power.”
Last month, a woman told a Coronial Inquest into drug-related deaths at music festivals that police threatened her with a “nice and slow” strip search at the Knockout Circuz festival in 2017, despite having no drugs on her.
The report also cites a woman named Emma who said that her strip search triggered memories of a past sexual assault. No drugs were found on her person.
The report’s authors suggest that increased use of drug dog accounts for the increase in strip searches, however, it points out that a positive detection from a dog still does not legally warrant a strip search being conducted.
UNSW lecturer Vicki Sentas, one of the report’s co-authors, said “Saturation policing with sniffer dogs at music festivals and railway stations or forcing teenagers to remove their clothes in the back of police vans does not make the community safer.
“We need a serious discussion about how best to reform the law so that the police cannot abuse their powers.”