The Greens have attacked the police’s drug dog program, as the party launched its ‘Sniff Off’ campaign in Wollongong on Friday.
The party says the campaign, previously launched in Sydney and Newcastle, has been extended to Wollongong to expand their coverage of drug dog reports.
Greens MP David Shoebridge, the ‘Sniff Off’ team and Wollongong Greens councillor Cath Blakey launched the initiative.
The campaign uses a Facebook page to warn people about the presence of drug detection dogs, particularly on public transport.
Mr Shoebridge cited figures that in 2017, 70.73 per cent of searches in the Wollongong Police District were false positives, and that over the past five years out of 620 recorded searches no drugs were found in 447 cases.
Cr Blakey said there was great concern within the Wollongong community about sniffer dogs, and local music festivals such as Yours and Owls had been targeted.
Therefore, Mr Shoebridge said there had been demand to launch ‘Sniff Off’ in the Illawarra.
He said that individuals searched were often “humiliated in public, surrounded by police, having their civil rights abused… When the majority of the time they won’t have any drugs on them”.
“Aboriginal people, young people and the homeless tend to be over-represented in drug dog searches.
“Police have used their drug dogs to exclude particularly young people from music festivals, and in deeply unfair circumstances.
“We know that 2017 in particular saw a surge of drug dog searches in the Illawarra, and what we see down in the Illawarra on false positives is pretty much what we see around the rest of the state.
“Any police program, any government program that’s getting it wrong the overwhelming majority of times, we say should not just come under scrutiny, we say should be terminated.”
Woonona’s Toby Thompson, 18, said that from his experience “the police force is very excessive for people who are suspected of carrying drugs on them”.
“Often it’s just for personal possession, and it’s never actually for big dealers or anybody (like that),” he said.
“These dogs are always seen at music festivals in Wollongong, and are often wasting police resources because it’s such a small quantity of drugs that they find.”
The Greens have previously called for amnesty bins to be placed at music festivals so people can dispose of their drugs safely.
A spokesperson for Police Minister Troy Grant said the NSW Police Force “has the full backing of this government in their use of drug detection dogs as a tool to rid our streets, events and public transport system of drug crime”.
“The Greens may support people taking drugs, but this government is focused on reducing drug crime and decreasing drug consumption.
“In May this year, more than 3500 MDMA capsules seized at the Midnight Mafia music festival by police with the help of drug detection dogs, while in January police arrested more than 150 party-goers for drug possession or supply at two music festivals.
“It beggars belief the Greens would suggest police turn a blind eye to events known to be drug hot spots.
“Police simply want to ensure the safety of young people who attend these sorts of music festivals.”