In recent weeks I have received a spate of complaints from members of the community about the excessive use of sniffer dogs by police at Redfern station. People have reported to me having police officers force them against walls and invasively search them in public, sometimes holding trains so that passengers can be dragged off and interrogated because the dogs seemed suspicious. As happens in the overwhelming majority of these cases, no drugs were found in any of these humiliating ordeals.
The regular use of sniffer dogs at Redfern station is unnecessary and discriminatory. While the dog squads love targeting Redfern you almost never see them on the North Shore or other stations in more affluent neighbourhoods. When you see all these cops at the station day in day out it goes a long way to reinforcing in some people’s minds all the negative stereotypes we hear about Redfern. And when locals have been aggressively and humiliatingly searched time and time again you can understand why they aren’t on good terms with the police, despite being law abiding citizens.
In the eight years since police were given the power to search people without a warrant on the basis of indications from sniffer dogs there have been very few arrests of drug dealers and little evidence to show that crime rates have dropped. 73% of people who are searched on the basis of a tip off from a dog are found to not be carrying anything illegal. Of the small proportion that do have drugs on them the vast majority are young adults carrying small personal quantities of marijuana.
Less than one in 500 searches leads to a conviction for drug supply. Even if you put aside the issue of civil liberties for a moment this hardly seems like an effective use of police resources.
The 2006 ombudsman’s review into the use of sniffer dogs declared them to be “not an effective tool for detecting persons involved in the supply of illegal drugs”. Yet despite this finding, four years later the dogs are still out in force.
Drug dealers don’t operate at Redfern station, or at any other place that’s so public, and they don’t transport their drugs on the train. If the government really wanted to stop drug dealing they’d acknowledge these obvious facts and stop wasting police time and money scapegoating the people of Redfern in an attempt to look tough on crime.