New evidence finds two-thirds of sniffer dog searches are wrong

Most sniffer dog searches conducted by NSW police have found no drugs, according to new data collated by harm reduction advocates Unharm. The statistics, generated from information submitted to NSW parliament and from the Bureau of Transport, show that the number of sniffer dog searches conducted each year has doubled since 2008, but that the vast majority of searches – including an alarming 60% of strip searches – still fail to find drugs.

The data collated by Unharm shows that drug dog searches are failing miserably in their aim of discouraging and detecting illicit drug use; new evidence from a national survey shows that more people in NSW are taking illegal drugs than ever before.

Speaking to the SMH over the weekend, UNSW criminal law lecturer Vicky Sentas said the high rate of false-positives in sniffer dog searches shows, “a normalisation and intensification of a very intrusive form of policing, which doesn’t appear to have its intended effect of disrupting drug supply.”

“Another cost,” doctors Alex Wodack and Nicholas Cowdery wrote in the SMH, “is that these operations seem to only increase the health risks. The presence of drug dogs at festivals and parties creates an incentive for attendees to take all their drugs at once prior to entering.”

Speaking to inthemix, Dr Will Tregoning of Unharm said, “Drug detection dogs have become almost a standard feature at music festivals in NSW. Often you hear police claiming that they are effective. They never provide any evidence of that. The truth is that the evidence just isn’t there. They catch hardly any dealers, very few people are deterred, and the risks of harm are increased.”

Dr Tregoning says that the use of drug dogs this coming festival season could lead to another tragic panic-overdose death, like at Defqon.1 last year, adding that another death is, “the worst thing that could happen… Numerous non-fatal overdoses are inevitable.” At Defqon.1 this year police conducted searches of 372 people, but more than three-quarters of people were found not to have drugs.


Check out the graph below, showing the number of annual sniffer dogs searches against the number that are found to be wrong; Unharm has started a petition to end the use of sniffer dogs in NSW (and you can sign it over here). [Image via SBS.]

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