A secret internal police report by their Lessons Learned Unit and Leadership and Capability Command shows the police hierarchy are fully aware of the likely unlawful nature of many strip searches being conducted by police, and their answer is stopgap education modules like a new screensaver.
The “Lessons Identified: Best Practice Strip Search Guidelines for Pre-Planned Events Involving Drug Detection Dogs” was released following a decision of the NSW Upper House to require the Police Minister to produce it. The police had been refusing to release the document on request in FOI applications and in an earlier budget estimates hearing.
The report also shows a four-fold increase in litigation against police relating to unlawful strip searches over the past eight years. In the four years from 2011 to 2014 there were just 5 cases brought against the police, but in the four years from 2015 to 2018 the number surged to more than 21.
The Greens are calling for an immediate moratorium on strip searches targeting personal drug possession until these problems with the law, education and policy are sorted out.
Greens MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said:
“This document shows that the police have known for at least a year that officers are routinely conducting illegal strip searches.
“This whole program needs a serious overhaul but instead of acknowledging the seriousness of the problem the Police Commissioner has been uncritically backing the illegal searches.
“There has been a four-fold increase in litigation against police for illegal strip searches over the past eight years. That’s at exactly the same time that the number of strip searches has surged across the state.
“Police on the ground are being let down by policy teams that can’t even tell them what a strip search is. The law is sloppy, police policy is sloppy and the politics is ugly.
“Bandaid solutions like a screensaver aren’t going to solve a statewide problem.
“The report shows the law being routinely broken by police with strip search procedures differing radically from one police station to the next.
“The end result is young people in particular are being subject to illegal strip searches purely as an accident of geography and local police politics.
“This cannot be how a system of justice is administered in NSW and some positive clear leadership is required to protect both the public and police.
“This leadership needs to include tightening the law, improving training for police officers conducting searches and a thorough reevaluation of police policy in this area.
“Most of these strip searches don’t find anything, so their unlawfulness is even more outrageous.
“We are calling for a moratorium on strip searches targeting personal drug possession until these problems with the law, education and policy are sorted out” Mr Shoebridge said.
Some relevant excerpts:
188.8.131.52 “Although the overall number of person searches by the NSWPF are decreasing, the proportion of strip searches are gradually increasing, This means that there is an increased risk of complaints especially if the legislation is not well understood and applied”
184.108.40.206 “The number of complaints against the NSWPF proceeding to litigation for unlawful searches are increasing” – from 2 in 2011, 1 in 2012, and 0 in 2013 to 7 in 2016, 7 in 2017 and 5 in 2018.
220.127.116.11 “The legislation provides no clear definition on the minimal level of clothing required to be removed to define a strip search.
A now obsolete NSWPF document, the Code of Practice for CRIME (Custody, Rights, Investigation, Management and Evidence) produces by Legal Services, did provide some explanation on what constitutes a strip search. This document stated that “while a strip search, when necessary in the circumstances, may go as far as the removal of all clothing, any search requiring a person to remove clothing (other than overcoats, jackets or similar items of clothing, gloves, shoes or hats) from the top or bottom of the body is regarded as a strip search under LEPRA”. There is no current document that provides such an explanation although it appears that interpretation of the definition is left to the individual or operation commander.”