On Monday I attended the Community Forum on Drug Dogs, Police and Redfern. I knew a little about the use of drug dogs by police, but the facts and stories that the speakers and attendees shared made me think a lot harder about why and how drug dogs are used in our community.
I knew about the ineffectiveness of drug dogs: the statistics of incorrect detection being a staggering 64-72% of the time. Even in terms of allocated resources, this is a frightening statistic, but for me that’s only the tip of the iceberg. What really scares me is the effect that drug dogs do achieve: an assertion of power that incapacitates and intimidates our society and targets those most vulnerable.
To break it down, 11,331 people last year were unnecessarily searched after a dog gave a false positive indication. 11,331 people subjected to the humiliation and violation of civil liberties to no avail. These searches may even escalate to strip and cavity searching based on information that has been shown to be wrong the majority of the time. Under the guise of illicit drug prevention, the police have gained a degree of power that is not a service, but an assertion of extreme and unnecessary force and intimidation.
The presence of police should make us feel safer, not fearful. I don’t want to feel threatened by the prospect of being strip searched for no reason, and I certainly don’t want others to have to fear the same. The more I learn about the use of drug dogs--the flimsiness of their defence and the power the police yield as a result--the more questions I have for the kind of power and authorities we’re being subjected to and why.
Overall I have a lot of respect for police; the work they do, the challenges they face—I know that I personally wouldn’t be cut-out for that line of duty or responsibility. I’m extremely grateful for their service in society, as I know many others are too. But their power, as with all authority figures, must be just that: a service to maintain order and safety for all members of our society and our communities. Failing that, the same power that is in place to protect us becomes a danger itself. That is why we need to constantly be questioning how power is enacted and why; and in the case of sniffer dogs, the more I have come to learn about matter, the more questions I ask, the greater my conviction is that this is a point we need to address. This is a point of power not protecting us or others, but rather power and authority becoming a danger itself.