NSW Police is facing backlash for a controversial trial policy allowing its officers to eject patrons from music festivals if drug-detection dogs indicate “the presence” of, or even proximity to, illicit drugs. Ahead of this weekend’s Above and Beyond music festival, NSW Police released a statement warning sniffer dogs would have final say, even if no drugs are found.
“Police are warning patrons attending the Above and Beyond music festival in Sydney this weekend that drug detection dogs will be at the venue,” the statement, posted on Facebook on June 5, reads.
“Police will exclude any person from the venue that the drug dog indicates has or who has recently had drugs on them, regardless of whether drugs are located.”
It’s believed to be the third time the tactic will be used. In May 13 attendees were stripped search and denied entry to the Midnight Mafia music festival after being identified by sniffer dogs, even when they weren’t eventually found to be in possession of prohibited materials.
A spokesperson from Harder Styles United (HSU), the organisers behind that festival, expressed disappoint about the incident on Facebook: “HSU are very unhappy by some of the results of the police operation that took place at Midnight Mafia on the weekend.
“HSU will be refunding these people’s tickets. It’s our personal belief that people are innocent until proven guilty.”
It’s also the belief of the Australian law, argues NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, who labelled the new policy “a clear abuse of police powers”.
As it stands, police officers may conduct strip searches “on reasonable grounds”.
It’s certainly not a crime to be falsely identified by sniffer dogs though, which get it wrong between two-thirds and three-quarters of the time by some estimates.
Shoebridge and the NSW Greens have launched an online campaign, Sniff Off, to push against the police platform, and a crowd-funding page to raise the $900 needed to take NSW Police to court – so far they’ve raised more than $5300.
The group is hoping a Supreme Court injunction will be enough to stop the police denying festivalgoers entry to Above and Beyond this weekend on canine sniffs alone.
“It is not a crime to have a drug dog falsely indicate you are carrying drugs,” reads a statement on the Sniff Off page. “Drug dogs get it wrong up to 75 per cent of the time. It’s hard to see how this kind of action by police could be legal, seeing how it involves punishment in the absence of any offence.”