Police Powers on Drug Dogs and Strip Searches under Fire

Police Powers on Drug Dogs and Strip Searches under fire

Co-written by: Bethany Kickert

KEY TAKE OUTS:

  • The Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Amendment (Drug Detection Dogs and Strip Searches) Bill 2020 introduced by the NSW Greens Party is currently in its Second Reading.
  • The amendment puts strict limitations upon the circumstances under which a strip search, or other personal search, can occur.
  • It also prohibits the use of drug detection dogs in carrying out drug detection in a public place without a warrant.
  • The Police are also prohibited from enforcing target limits or quotas on the number of persons strip searched.

Strip searches and Drug Detection Dogs

Primarily, the amendment limits the circumstances in which strip searches may be carried out.

By definition, a strip search must not involve an examination of the person’s body by touch, or require the person to squat, cough or bend over. The officer conducting the search is also not permitted to remove a person’s clothes, including moving or otherwise adjusting them.

This amendment explains that a strip search must only be undertaken if the officer believes on reasonable grounds that the strip search is necessary, or there is immediate risk of significant harm to a person’s life or safety. Possession of a small quantity of a prohibited drug or plant does not in itself constitute an immediate risk of significant harm to a person’s life or safety.

If a strip search is necessary for the reasons mentioned, under the Bill, the police officer will need to tell the person that they may have a support person to be present while it is conducted. Furthermore, as a strip search is such an invasive procedure, it is not possible to consent to a strip search. Further, for personal searches other than a strip search, consent must be sought, and an unfavourable inference must not be drawn from non-consent.

The amendment also seeks to protect children following reported instances of officers strip-searching children as young as 10 based on their suspicion alone. The Bill seeks to prohibit strip searches of children younger than 16 and allows strip searches of 16-17-year old’s only in exceptional circumstances.

Interestingly, target numbers or quotas of persons searched will also be prohibited. This is in response to the overwhelming abuse of these powers in the past, with over 2 million searches being conducted since 2013 which exceeded the target of 1.7 million.

The amendment also prohibits the use of drug detection dogs in carrying out drug detection in a public place without a warrant. This targets the efficiency of the practice, which reportedly produces false results in approximately two-thirds to three-quarters of cases.

Other Notable Changes

It is also important to note that the Commissioner of Police will be required to record information relating to, and report annually to Parliament on, the number of searches, including strip searches undertaken by Police. This also includes searches carried out by police while using dogs to carry out general drug detection under a warrant.


ABOUT LARA MENON:

Lara Menon

Lara joined the Coutts Lawyers & Conveyancers Legal team in August 2018 and is currently working as a Lawyer in our Criminal and Family Law team.

Earlier in 2019, Lara was selected by the NSW Law Society to undertake an internship with the NSW Coroner’s Court, working as a Judge’s Associate for the Deputy State Coroner.


For further information please don’t hesitate to contact:

Lara Menon
Lawyer
lara@couttslegal.com.au
1300 268 887

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