Thousands falsely identified by sniffer drug dogs


Intrusive and ieneffective sniffer-dog searches such as this one at this year's Bluesfest which turned up no drugs have sparkled calls for the drug-dog program to be scrapped.

Intrusive and ineffective sniffer-dog searches such as this one at this year’s Bluesfest, which turned up no drugs, have sparked calls for the drug-dog program to be scrapped.

Luis Feliu

Thousands of people on the north coast and across NSW are being falsely identified as carrying drugs by police sniffer dogs, which the NSW Greens say is an unjustified invasion of privacy and proving ineffective.

The latest call to scrap the drug sniffer-dog program follows data obtained by the Greens showing police drug dogs give a high false positive rate of 64 per cent, which means they’re not finding drugs on most people yet continue to invade their privacy with intrusive searches.

Recently, police used sniffer dogs near high schools in Murwillumbah and Tweed Heads, sparking a backlash from some in the community.

sniffer1Police also regularly use drug sniffer dogs at Byron shire’s annual Bluesfest and Splendour in the Grass music festivals, with many dog approaches there proving negative for illegal drugs.

Body cavity searches are also sometimes carried out (in private) if a dog indicates the person may have drugs.

Greens MLC David Shoebridge said that ‘if police are interested in stopping crime, they should focus on tracking down high-level drug dealers rather than harassing people on the street’.


The sniffer dog goes into action at Bluesfest this year.

Another failed sniffer-dog drug-detection test at this year's Bluesfest.

Another failed sniffer-dog drug-detection test at this year’s Bluesfest.

Dr Shoebridge said the vast majority of people indicated by police drug dogs were not carrying drugs.

‘A dog indication does not amount to “reasonable suspicion” which could justify a search,’ Dr Shoebridge said.

‘When drugs are found it tends to be a small amount for personal use. The conviction rate from drug dog operations is miniscule.

‘Thousands of people are subjected to these invasive and humiliating public searches each year. In many cases people are even strip searched, only for no drugs to be found.

‘Police focus on Redfern despite the dogs being less effective there. Redfern is home to Sydney’s most prominent Aboriginal community, people who have suffered too long from over-policing.

‘These problems are not new, a 2006 Ombudsman’s report said that the use of drug dogs was ineffective and the government should consider ending their use. Successive governments have ignored this advice.’

Dr Shoebridge said that ‘inaccuracy, violations of civil liberties and inappropriate targeting of vulnerable people mean that the drug sniffer dog program should be scrapped immediately’.

He said successive governments had failed to act on the problem of unjustified drug searches by sniffer dogs.

‘Every year in the range of 10,000 people are routinely and grossly inappropriately humiliated on our streets or on public transport,’ he told Fairfax Media.

‘Their rights are trespassed, they are subject to an intrusive and humiliating public search, and on each occasion that happens the police know that they are far more likely than not to find no drugs, and to not have a proper basis for the search – yet nobody is doing anything about it.’

Dr Shoebridge said that of the 17,746 searches conducted after a dog gave a positive indication last year, 11,331 turned up no drugs.
Only 433 searches resulted in a successful supply conviction, a success rate of 2.44 per cent.

‘A passenger at Redfern Station was 6.5 times more likely to be searched than somebody at Central, despite drug dogs having a higher false positive rate at Redfern,’ he said.

To find out more and join the Sniff Off Campaign:

2 responses to “Thousands falsely identified by sniffer drug dogs”

  1. Harsha Prabhu says:

    Please amend the facebook link to read:

    Those interested may also like to sign a petition, see below.
    ‘Drug dog operations in public places increase the risks of harm and do little or nothing to stop the supply of drugs. It’s time to ditch the dogs.’

  2. Leigh says:

    They are identified as having come into contact with drugs. Its a small distinction but an important one that Mr Shoebridge overlooks in his quest to ease up the charge rate on his young, uni-going druggo constitutents.

    Contact can be anything from direct handling, to using a bag that had drugs in it in the past, to shaking hands with someone that has been in contact with drugs.

    That contact warrants a search.

    It is that simple.

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