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October 4, 2022

Comment: Time for another Police Royal Commission? 

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The mid-1990s Royal Commission into the NSW Police Service uncovered evidence of entrenched corruption, which included state law enforcement officers selling heroin out the back of police stations, involved in running then illegal sex work services and trading in child pornography.

Also known as the Wood Royal Commission, the inquiry’s six volumes of findings served to clean up NSW police operations, with outcomes including the decriminalisation of sex work, drug law reform and the establishment of a state police oversight body.

Justice James Wood headed the first Royal Commission into the NSW Police Force. Image: AAP

But, according to Redfern Legal Centre senior police accountability solicitor, Samantha Lee, it might be time for another investigation into the NSW Police Force.

Yet, this time, the police conduct under the microscope would be alleged overreach in terms of the application of certain powers.

‘It’s time to think about whether another Royal Commission is needed in NSW to look at how much the powers are going beyond the legislative framework and the cultural demise of the police force in NSW over the last few years,’ Lee told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.

The solicitor further asserts that what’s been happening in this regard constitutes a ‘bleeding out’ of police powers, specifically in terms of strip searches, drug dog use, the policing of the pandemic and the now defunct quota system.

These days, people living in NSW are faced with the prospect of being indicated by a drug dog on the street, in a pub or on entering an event, like a music festival.

And if a pat down search doesn’t turn up anything, they can then be asked to strip naked in front of two armed and uniformed strangers.

The Wood inquiry didn’t scrutinise these practices, as, back in the 90s, they didn’t exist as they do in the present.

Sniffer dogs didn’t become a part of everyday life in this state until 2001, while the heightened use of strip searches started to become apparent circa 2014.

The stated purpose of NSW police deploying drug dogs is to combat drug supply.

But since the release of the 2006 Ombudsman report, it’s been widely understood that dogs falsely indicate two-thirds of the time, and if a search is successful, it usually turns up a small amount of cannabis.

The coupling of the dogs with strip searches has been steadily increasing since mid-last decade.

In 2018, 11 percent of those indicated by a dog were subjected to this invasive practice. Yet, numerous reports outline that the effects of strip searches are similar to the impacts of sexual assault.

Lee went on to outline that strip searches were never meant to be used for minor drug possession, and, as the force itself admits, neither were sniffer dogs.

But it’s not just this misapplication of strip searches and sniffer dogs that’s causing the controversy around NSW police.

Indeed, there have been countless complaints and official investigations into officers overstepping the mark to the point of illegality in applying strip searches.

This not only includes breaching the legislated protocols, but police management advises that certain questionable procedures be used.

Another approach taken by NSW police that’s been scrutinised is that taken to public protest.

Whilet bolstered by the increasing anti-protest laws being passed by the NSW Liberal Nationals, it was the mid-2020 surge in the Black Lives Matters movement that brought this issue to a head.

In the aftermath of the first lockdown, the NSW police commissioner attempted to have BLM rallies shut down by the NSW Supreme Court, presumably as they had a focus on police conduct.

But when such actions did go ahead they were accompanied by saturation policing and excessive use of force.

This was followed by a crackdown on post-lockdown protest in general, which was facilitated by a clause in a public health order, and boiled over at Sydney University. Officers, again, employed excessive force to nonviolent student activists, and it only ended when officers turned on a professor.

Climate activists 

Of late, NSW police has turned its attention to climate activists.

Strike Force Guard was established to target climate defenders last March. And some of its actions have led to charges of overreach in relation to its staking out protesters, visiting them at home, multiple raids, arresting individuals days after protests, and the storming of an activist picnic.

Lee puts the stark rise in NSW police use of strip searches down in part to its quota system. Since at least 2018, police local area commands had been operating under a system of quotas in terms of the number of searches and move on order officers were required to carry out annually.

Then NSW Greens MLC, and now Senator David Shoebridge obtained the statistics relating to this system in late 2019, via freedom of information (FOI). And he stressed that the scheme clearly opened up ‘the use of both these police powers to serious abuse’.

First published at www.sydneycriminallawyers.com.au. You can see the original post here.


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6 COMMENTS

  1. Why on Earth do we need another investigation in to the police ?
    Every time they are investigated the findings are the same , they are corrupt , they are vicious thugs, they ARE organised crime and represent the greatest threat to peace and democracy in society.
    Police are an army of mercenaries designed to maintain the right-wing status quo and protect those with money or influence, while pocketing a hefty slice of criminal profits. Our crooked politicians rely on them for protection , and the courts ensure their immunity from prosecution.
    Always has been , always will be,
    Cheers, G”)

  2. No comments ! I wonder if this reflects on the story of policer abuse and apparent score settling … what do you think?

  3. Yes definitely time for another Royal Commission into the Police Service. Difficult really to call the police when you need help, you may get someone corrupt, and their corruption is more than likely condoned

  4. In Byron I experienced BLM protestors were left alone whilst police harassed and fined freedom protesters both in the same time frame/rules by gov

    • I would have thought ‘ BLM protesters’ exemplified freedom protestors , so I wonder what manner of protestors even the police determined were undesirable.
      Cheers, G”)

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