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June 29, 2022

Campaign throws costly sniffer-dog searches off the scent

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A campaign spearheaded by the NSW Greens against the invasive use of police drug dog searches has highlighted the ineffectiveness of the operations and reduced them.

The ‘Sniff Off’ campaign targets the ineffective and invasive use of drug dogs by the NSW Police.

Documents obtained by the NSW Greens under Freedom of Information show the campaign is having an impact on reducing drug dog searches.

Greens MP David Shoebridge said ‘the widespread publication of data that demonstrates the continuing false positive rates and ineffectiveness of police drug dogs since 2011 has forced a reduction in police drug dog operations’.

‘In 2011 the NSW police searched 16,459 people after a positive drug dog indication with 78 per cent of people searched being found to carry no drugs,’ Mr Shoebridge said.

‘After four years of embarrassing media on the high false positive rate the number of people searched fell to 12,893 with a false positive rate of 69 per cent.’

North coast unreasonably targeted

The documents also show total searches and false positive rates for each of 76 Police Local Area Commands. The figures show that parts of the state are targeted for drug dog operations, despite extraordinarily low rates of drugs being found as a result of searches. Redfern and Liverpool stand out as LACs in the top ten by searches conducted but the bottom ten by rate of drugs found.

Tweed/Byron consistently has among the highest number of searches in the state, and is the only Local Area Command outside of Sydney to make the top 10.


In 2014 Tweed Byron had the third most searches in the state, despite having only the 24th lowest false positive rate. In 2015, Tweed/Byron again had the third most searches in the state but dropped to 27th lowest false positive rate.

The false positive rate over both years was between 64-67 per cent meaning 1,221 people were subjected to intrusive personal searches despite not carrying drugs.

Police ‘pull head in’

Mr Shoebridge said the figures show that parts of the state are targeted for drug dog operations ‘despite extraordinarily low rates of drugs being found as a result of searches’.

‘Redfern and Liverpool stand out as LACs in the top ten by searches conducted but the bottom ten by rate of drugs found,’ he said.

‘Five years of close scrutiny of police drug dog operations has seen police pull their head in a bit and reduce the number of searches by more than 20 per cent.

‘We would like to have stopped them all, but this is a start.

‘Even though search numbers have dropped the dogs are still getting it wrong nearly 70 percent of the time. In Redfern, this figure rises to 80 per cent.

‘Getting the data out there, and especially the strong support for the Sniff Off page, has forced more accountability on the police.

‘Sniff Off shows that when you have more than 21,000 people monitoring and reporting on police drug dog behaviour you can force positive change even on the NSW Police.

‘Out of 76 Local Area Commands, Redfern saw the sixth most searches in 2015 despite being ranked 67 in actually finding drugs.

‘The government needs to explain why Redfern is being consistently over-policed.

‘The figures show Redfern isn’t awash in drugs, but we do know it has a large population of young people and a vibrant Aboriginal community.

‘In 2015, 8,874 totally innocent people were surrounded by dogs and police in public, made to empty their pockets and bags, and then subjected to a humiliating public search by police based on a false positive by a drug dog.

‘It is simply unacceptable that given the wealth of evidence that shows the scheme is failing that thousands of people are still being subject to pointless searches.

‘We want the police to be targeting serious crime such as domestic violence, fraud and firearms offences not frittering away millions of tax dollars with the useless drug dog program,’ Mr Shoebridge said.




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