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Byron Shire
January 29, 2022

Anger at police using dogs to target students

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A man is questioned by police in the main street of Mullumbimby. (supplied pic)
A man is questioned by police in the main street of Mullumbimby. (supplied pic)

The use of police sniffer dogs to target high school students in Byron and Tweed shires last week prompted an angry response from local politicians and parents.

Up to four dogs and their handlers took part in the operation, which also targeted the general public.

Tweed/Byron local area command inspector Greg Jago confirmed that a small number of cannabis detections were made outside the schools.

‘The number was under five, and depending on their previous interactions with police they could be dealt with under the young offenders’ act, with a cannabis caution or with a court attendance notice,’ Insp Jago said.

‘Normally when a drug detection operation is run a warrant is issued by the local court and I assume a warrant was issued in this case.

The Echonetdaily was previously told a general warrant was issued from the Murwillumbah court, however attempts to view the warrant have been unsuccessful.

In conflicting reports, Insp Jago said he understood that Mullumbimby, Byron and Murwillumbah high schools were targeted and were aware of what was happening, but the dogs and police did not enter school grounds.

But representatives from both Murwillumbah and Byron High Schools told echonetdaily there had been no sniffer dogs at their schools.

‘Our focus is harm minimisation and at this stage the focus is that they should be going to school to be educated so the removal of illegal drugs is necessary,’ said Inspector Jago.

But not everybody agrees.

North coast Greens MP and ex-Byron mayor Jan Barham described it as wasteful, ineffective and intrusive.

‘We would benefit from a police youth liaison officer rather than sniffer dogs’, she said.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties spokesperson Stephen Blanks also slammed the use of dogs to target school children as ‘entirely inappropriate’.

Mr Blanks said the effectiveness of sniffer dogs was questionable.

‘It is even more inappropriate for sniffer dogs to be used outside a school – even with a warrant – because of the vulnerability of children, who are likely to be arriving at or leaving from school without adult supervision,’ he said.

Greens MP David Shoebridge, who told Echonetdaily he is seeking a freedom of information request on the standard sniffer dog operation procedures.

‘The presence of sniffer dogs doesn’t prevent drug taking, it changes behaviour,’ he said. ‘It also damages relations between police and young people.

‘When we ask police how many prosecutions come from these exercises, we are told they “don’t keep statistics.”’

But according to Mr Shoebridge, recent figures obtained from parliamentary questions on notice show 65 per cent of all searches following a police drug dog indication finds no drugs and as a result is a ‘false positive indication.’

‘From the 2012 to 2013, there were 15,308 indications leading to search,’ Mr Shoebridge said.

‘Of those, nothing was found on 10,964 people.

‘This is about show; the NSW government want to be seen to be tackling drug crime, but this is not effective policing. It’s an expensive and ineffectual PR campaign.

‘These laws have been enacted and cheered on by both NSW Labor and the Coalition but were opposed by the Greens.’

Tweed NSW Labor hopeful Ron Goodman said he ‘wasn’t keen to comment on specific operations but wanted to ensure police resources were used effectively.’

Echonetdaily asked NSW Labor’s Walt Secord if sniffer dogs damage the relationship and trust between the public and police.

‘While I do not comment on specific police operations, I would have concerns if scarce police resources in Tweed-Byron local area command were being diverted,’ he said.

Ballina National hopeful Kris Beavis told The Echo he was ‘not inclined to comment as we don’t know what intelligence the police had’.

Meanwhile, Inspector Jago said the positive drug detections could lead to further investigations at the schools.

It’s understood the dogs used in the operation had been brought to Byron shire for the Splendour in the Grass festival, but have since left the region.

 * UPDATE: This story has been amended to reflect that both Byron and Murwillumbah High School representatives told echonetdaily there were no police sniffer dogs at their school. This is at odds with the comment from Inspector Jago, who said he understood that there were.


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21 COMMENTS

  1. As in every case involving Police, if you have nothing to be guilty about, why carry on like this? As a society we whine about the Police “not doing” their job or not doing it well enough and then we whine when they carry out activities like this that don’t hurt anyone and don’t infringe upon anyone’s rights… unless of course you’re guilty. Enough tip-toeing around. Let the Police do their job.

    • Let the police do their job? It isn’t their job to annoy and intimidate people who are not causing any scene or doing anything wrong, did you read the article about how people actually get caught this way? It’s a waste of time, money and resources, and it makes alot of people fearful and intimidated of the cops. Bad decision whoever tells the police they have to go out and hassle citizens going about their everyday lives. What a joke.

    • Hey Kelly – why not stop tip-toeing around and just get the police to go house to house with their dogs whenever they feel like it?

      Being stopped in the street when you are not doing anything wrong, and being subjected to a dog sniffing you and then being searched IS an infringement on your rights.

    • Kelly, Your argument is weak and flawed on all counts ! People have rights and this police behaviour is trespassing on our civil liberties. Would you be happy with the police storming your house because they feel the right to do so ? I think not.

  2. I saw 4 police with a dog surrounding a youth out the front of Mullumbimby High. As I drove past they searched his bag, Yes there were other minors near by arriving at school too. However this youth did not [appear to] have an adult representative present to supervise the event. Where was the Principal of Mullumbimby High during the operation? Police integrity should assure the community that if they are going to search a minor on the street during a drug operation, they should do it with the school principal present.

    • I agree, Rachel. No child should be subjected to this kind of interrogation without an Adult advocate.

      I agree with Shoebridge who said ‘This is about show; the NSW government want to be seen to be tackling drug crime, but this is not effective policing. It’s an expensive and ineffectual PR campaign.’

      This is NOT tackling the problem of drugs. The police are picking the easiest thing to detect and the least damaging to health and society… and ultimately the one the big-business end of town wants to control themselves…. at the expense of tacking the ones which are a real problem to society but a bit harder to detect. ICE and Speed and Alchohol and the trucks on the road are are the real dangers to our society. They cost lives and families.
      The police are too lazy to chase them up… they would rather hang around schools busting less than a handful of kids, wasting huge amounts of money and scaring little children. Great Policing, NOT!

  3. What a waste of our tax dollar. Just as at Splendour, all the Police will achieve is busting a “user”, in a victimless crime. Often these young people, if they have a conviction recorded against them, are then denied the possibility of following many career paths for life, due to one insignificant offence. Go after the purveyors of crystal meth … and, as Pink Floyd said, … “leave them kids alone” …

  4. The law here is based on opposition profits, ignorance & the bought offs and is whats the crime. This is changing rapidly now though, world wide, although the authority heads, and many citizens, are still in the sand here. Some police need to get a real job, although some are brighter. Check out LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

    Attacking the peaceful young & others that changes nothing for good, just worse, with their useless imposed damage year after year? Are you kidding? For damage nothing tops toxic drugs alcohol & tobacco. Instead whats proven far safer & not toxic with medical benefits gets attacked. Idiots. Wake up! Study..like a student for peace & unity, if you don’t really know studied facts. Give that a duh.

  5. Don’t include me in the protest against police taking pre-emptive action against drugs! I think it’s long overdue, and the fact that it’s finally happening shows how remiss we’ve been in the past, that kids would freely take drugs into school in the first place.
    Good on the police, these areas are well known for drug taking kids, and their parents.

  6. Such an invasion of privacy.
    As mentioned, all this will do is teach the kids to do it some other way – won’t actually address the root problem as to why they are using.
    Funds should be put to local services that have been shown to be effective such as BYS or Amie Dreyer’s Chrysalis Program.

  7. What a ridiculous waste of money. 4 dogs, and their handlers from Sydney on traveling allowance, to achieve nothing but public contempt for the police.
    Its a sad day when the state can subject law abiding citizens going about their business to arbitrary, pointless and demeaning searches whenever the police feel like it.

    • Well said Bill, what a sad pathetic lot of people who applaud police invading privacy. Wow. I truly was gobsmacked to see this, next thing these overly sheltered people will be cheering on is cameras in tstreets, in fact something tells me these naysayers would most likely support the strict speeding fines agenda too. Like free thinking is some sort of crime.

  8. So how much did it cost to stop those ” less than five ” getting stoned ?
    And what did we learn ? Dogs can’t smell the cash !

  9. It is absolutely outrageous and I think possibly not even legal
    What do the cops think they are doing targeting school kids?
    If it were one of mine I would be screaming furious! They are not even adults for christ’s sake!
    It is all for show and just a waste of time and resources.
    Go and catch some real crooks.
    This was a result of Splendour ! Cops and dogs left over with nothing better to do.

  10. If we say hands off to the cops and their dogs outside high schools – what do we want done when a drug dealer, albiet a high school student, sells our/your friends/family/neighbours kids drugs at school? Or an underage user shares their pot/ecstasy/any other drug with classmates ….?

    I have teenage children – they are made of tough (dare I say even a tad arrogant) stuff and are well aware of the illegality of drugs. I don’t think that sniffer dogs outside school will have damaged their sensitivities – but it sure would make them think twice about taking a joint or whatever to school with them, or buying it at school in future and that can only be a good thing. Perhaps it will even deter the school dealers somewhat!

  11. Isn’t about time that police stopped hararsing people about marihuana. Haven’t they heard that now it is legal in many US States and in some South American Countries, not counting Holland. It is about time that the state and Federal governments enacted new laws to legalise canabis . Half of all people in prison would not be there if the drug laws were amended.

  12. Ha ha Paul .. Great call .. seriously a bit of weed ? Ice is the real issue these days and Booze as always .. was at work the other day and a young guy on Ice abused one of our customers for nothing that elderly customer will be traumatised for a while .. you don’t see stoners causing car accidents and fighting and randomly traumatising and abusing people for nothing .. what about all the rapes that happen in Byron ? Seriously a bit of weed ? what about Truth for Jai ? do some real police work !!

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