Strip search report backs concerns held by NSW festival promoters
Comments made in July 2019 by NSW music festival promoters to an inquest that police strip searches at their events had increased drastically, have been substantiated by a new report released August 22.
The live music sector said searches were traumatic, aggressive and unnecessary, and wanted use of sniffer dogs discontinued.
In recent parliamentary inquiries in recent weeks covering Sydney nighttime economy and the state’s new festival licensing regulations, promoters and venues complained that NSW police were more heavy-handed than their counterparts in other states.
Now the new wider-ranging report this week confirms what promoters, lawyers, harm reduction campaigners and human rights activists have been saying – NSW police officers have no clear protocol on these searches, these could be illegal in some cases, and could traumatise people who were found to be innocent.
The Rethinking Strip Searches by NSW Police report by UNSW Law academics Dr Michael Grewcock and Dr Vicki Sentas – and commissioned by the Redfern Legal Centre – found that strip searches increased almost twentyfold in less than 12 years.
Only 30% of searches led to criminal charges and less than 16.5% in charges of drug supply.
45% of targeted people are aged 25 and under, and 10% are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“A strip search is the most invasive form of personal search available to police without a court order,” Dr Sentas said.
“Yet over the past decade we have seen the number of strip searches continue to rise.
“Our findings reveal such searches are doing little to tackle serious drug crime.”
The Redfern Legal Centre has made a number of recommendations which, if adopted, would give festival patrons and the wider community a clearer idea of their rights.
This includes the law making it clear that police cannot ever search genitals or breasts; the law making it clearer about what, when and how police should conduct a strip search; and defining “private places” where such searches can be made.
During last month’s festival drug deaths inquiry, the coroner’s lawyer told the court he would be seeking access to NSW police strip search protocols.
Under the law, police can only conduct a strip search if they believe there are serious and urgent grounds to do so — especially if a person is suspected of carrying concealed drugs or weapons.
But NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge believes most searches fall outside that criteria.
“It’s now almost an automatic escalation, particularly at music festivals,” he said.
In June, NSW Police introduced a new policy where anyone indicated by sniffer dogs to be carrying drugs, would be refused entry to the music festival.
This is despite figures showing that 63% of no drugs being found despite an indication by a sniffer dog.
The Redfern Legal Centre has launched the Safe and Sound campaign to provide legal advice to festival-goers through a website and app.
Read the new report here.