A comprehensive report from the University of NSW today has recommended significant reform to the use of police strip searches including clear laws to guide police, and strong protections for young people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.

The UNSW Law report “Rethinking Strip Searches by NSW Police” examines the legal framework around strip searches, the number and detail of searches being conducted in NSW and compares these with other comparable jurisdictions. The findings show that “strip searches increased by 46.8 percent over four years and on average, found nothing 64 percent of the time.”

Key findings include:

  • Imprecise legal thresholds and definition of what constitutes a strip search
  • Likelihood that many strip searches are potentially illegal
  • Drug dogs are likely increasing the number of unnecessary strip searches
  • Illegalities in strip searches including “squat and cough” practices
  • Strip searches cause harm
  • Children should be protected

Greens MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said:

“This report shows the strip search regime is in extreme overdrive, it does not give police appropriate guidance, and unfairly impacts on young people and First Nations people.

“Strip searching thousands of people for small quantities of drugs is harmful, frequently unlawful and a poor focus for police resources.

“This is clear evidence that many strip searches are likely unlawful and that many components of police searches including the notorious “squat and cough” requests are not authorized by the law.

“The accountability and reporting deficits identified in the report shows that many strip searches are not even recorded in police databases.

“The increase in strip searches is extraordinary, rising from 177 in the 12 months to 30 November 2006 up to 5,483 in the 12 months to 30 June 2018.

“As we have long known from our Sniff Off campaign, the use of drug detection dogs massively increases the number of strip searches carried out despite this not meeting the legal criteria required for a search.

“This report makes clear that widespread legislative reform is needed to greatly reduce the number of strip searches in NSW and protect the rights of young and marginalized people in this state,” Mr Shoebridge said.