Some stories keep coming back around, like yo-yos and other fads.
One such story in the media concerns use of police dogs at concerts and other events.
In the latest round of this story, it has been reported that police sniffer dogs get it wrong 75 per cent of the time at concerts and such, where they are checking for illegal drugs.
You might contend that this does not matter because they caught the other 25 per cent.
However, this would ignore and sideline our right to quiet enjoyment and to go about our business without unreasonable interference by agents of the state. If a strategy does not work 75 per cent of the time, then why would you keep using it?
Imagine if a teacher kept using a teaching strategy that only worked a quarter of the time.
Imagine if seat belts only worked in one in every four crashes, or if your car's brakes only worked every fourth push of the pedal.
The other issue that arises with the continued use of this failed strategy is that it is often linked to strip searches. Despite the law requiring police to have serious and urgent reasons to conduct strip searches in a public place the number of strip searches conducted jumped to 4,500 in the period 2020-22.
Media have reported that girls as young as 12 and 13 have been subjected to strip searches.
So, what is the link between police dogs and strip searches?
Even though it has been reported that the dogs get it wrong three times in every four, the fact that a police dog raises an alert has been used as a sufficient reason to conduct a strip search.
According to the Redfern Legal Centre, there are three requirements in the law relating to strip searches.
Firstly, they must suspect on reasonable grounds that you have something unlawful in your possession.
Next, after using other means to check, such as asking you to empty your pockets or shake out your hair, they must have a reasonable suspicion that a strip search is necessary.
Finally, they must consider the matter serious and urgent.
The law uses extreme language around strip searches because they are seen as an extreme measure.
However, it sometimes seems like they are becoming the go-to strategy for police, even though their efficacy is increasingly under question.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the police are using dogs and strip searches as ways to intimidate people.
A University of NSW report in 2019 reported a twentyfold increase in strip searches over the previous 12 years.
That report found that almost half of strip searches are of people under 25 years of age and that Aboriginal people are disproportionately more likely to be strip searched.
It made the link between use of police sniffer dogs and the increase in strip searches.
The report made a number of recommendations:
We must never lose sight of the fact that police have a very privileged position in society. Their actions can impinge on our rights in very physical ways. The law should ensure, and police practice should reinforce, that any interference in our rights is necessary, minimal and monitored.
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