Documents obtained by the NSW Greens under Freedom of Information show that the Sniff Off campaign is having an impact on reducing drug dog searches. The Greens Sniff Off campaign targets the ineffective and invasive use of drug dogs by the NSW Police. The widespread publication of data that demonstrates the continuing false positive rates and ineffectiveness of police drug dogs since 2011 has forced a reduction in police drug dog operations.
In 2011 the NSW police searched 16,459 people after a positive drug dog indication with 78% of people searched being found to carry no drugs. After four years of embarrassing media on the high false positive rate the number of people searched fell to 12,893 with a false positive rate of 69%.
The documents also show total searches and false positive rates for each of 76 Police Local Area Commands. The figures show that parts of the State are targeted for drug dog operations, despite extraordinarily low rates of drugs being found as a result of searches. Redfern and Liverpool stand out as LACs in the top ten by searches conducted but the bottom ten by rate of drugs found.
The number of people subjected to sniffer dog searches by NSW police has fallen to a five-year low, new figures reveal, but the proportion where no drugs are found remains stubbornly high.
Last year the number of searches conducted after police dogs indicated the presence of drugs fell to 12,893 – the lowest annual figure since 2010 when 14,836 were carried out.
Drugs were found in only 4019 cases, meaning that none were discovered in 68 per cent of the searches. However, this is an improvement on 2014 where no drugs were found in more than 73 per cent of 14,541 searches conducted.
The figures, obtained by the NSW Greens under access to government information laws, also reveal that last year 3275 sniffer dog searches were conducted by the police public transport command, but no drugs were found in 73 per cent of cases.
Greens MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said:
“Five years of close scrutiny of police drug dog operations has seen police pull their head in a bit and reduce the number of searches by more than 20%. We would like to have stopped them all, but this is a start.
“Even though search numbers have dropped the dogs are still getting it wrong nearly 70 percent of the time. In Redfern, this figure rises to 80%.
“Getting the data out there, and especially the strong support for the Sniff Off page, has forced more accountability on the police.
“Sniff Off shows that when you have more than 21,000 people monitoring and reporting on police drug dog behaviour you can force positive change even on the NSW Police.
“Out of 76 Local Area Commands, Redfern saw the 6th most searches in 2015 despite being ranked 67 in actually finding drugs. The government needs to explain why Redfern is being consistently over-policed.
“The figures show Redfern isn’t awash in drugs, but we do know it has a large population of young people and a vibrant Aboriginal community.
“In 2015, 8874 totally innocent people were surrounded by dogs and police in public, made to empty their pockets and bags, and then subjected to a humiliating public search by police based on a false positive by a drug dog.
“It is simply unacceptable that given the wealth of evidence that shows the scheme is failing that thousands of people are still being subject to pointless searches.
“We want the police to be targeting serious crime such as domestic violence, fraud and firearms offences not frittering away millions of tax dollars with the useless drug dog program,” Mr Shoebridge said.