Police strip-searches of festival teens were ‘unlawful,’ inquiry finds
A string of strip-searches by NSW cops on underaged festival-goers weren’t just objectionable and unpleasant, they were “unlawful,” a police watchdog has said.
An independent inquiry has handed down its findings into the roles of behaviour of police at a pair of music festivals, which left several children traumatised by the experience and put a dent in the reputation of law enforcement.
The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) was launched after NSW police conducted strip-searches on children as young as 15 at Splendour in the Grass in 2018 and the Lost City Music Festivals in 2019.
The inquiry found police acted outside of the rules and, in some cases, officers operated without the requisite training.
The investigation heard one particularly troubling incident involving a 16-year-old female who was forced to strip naked and squat during SITG, and who later described her humiliation at her treatment.
The LECC also handed down its findings connected with the searches of three teen boys, aged 15 to 17, at the Lost City Music festival at Homebush.
All four searches were found to be unlawful because officers made no attempt to contact a parent, guardian or support person, as is required by law for a minor.
Also, officers at both events were found to not have sufficient knowledge of the rules for strip-searching under the Law Enforcement Powers and Responsibilities Act (LEPRA), and ten of the 11 officers who gave evidence for the provide had never previously strip searched a child.
The LECC’s final report on is due later this year and, according to the ABC, the probe stopped short of making any findings of misconduct against any of the officers under investigation.
“Let’s hope our governments start to see all the changes needed on how police can work with rather than against patrons, festivals and public health services like pill testing,” reads a statement from Harm Reduction Australia.
NSW Police has been widely criticised over the past decade for their heavy-handed tactics with party-goers, from the deployment of sniffer dogs, strip searches, heavy penalties for carrying drugs for personal use and more.
The numbers back it up. A research report published last year by University of NSW into police power in the state found that 5,483 strip-searches were conducted in the 12 months to June 30, 2018, up from just 277 searches in the 12 months to November 30, 2006.
The Australian Festival Association (AFA), whose members include the producers of Splendour, has called for more harm minimisation strategies to be rolled out and supported by all levels of government and pitched for a Music Festival Regulation Roundtable with regulators, medical experts, promoters, emergency service providers and law enforcement.
Speaking after the LECC recommendations were made, Samantha Lee, Solicitor, and Head of Police Accountability at Redfern Legal Centre was far from impressed. “Why on earth are children allowed to be stripsearched in the first place? It needs to change,” Lee said.
NSW Police issued its own statement, in which it said the force is “committed to continuous improvement and has developed initiatives to standardise operational orders and enhance compliance.”
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.