Drug Dogs, Police and Redfern

Jenny's speech from the 'Drug Dogs, Police and Redfern' Community meeting on the 1st of December 2014.

In the speech Jenny discussed her personal connection to this issue, talked about the report released by the Greens on the ineffectiveness of the drug dog program and announced that if elected, she will introduce a bill to end the General Drug Dog Program in NSW.

You can listen to Jenny's speech here

 

Full text of Jenny's speech at the 'Drug Dogs, Police and Redfern' Community meeting at the Redfern Community Centre

As a matter of protocol, a mark of respect and a sign of solidarity, I would like to acknowledge we are meeting tonight on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation…

It was 3 July 2008, I was having a drink with a friend at the Bank Hotel in Newtown – I was due to meet my partner a bit later at the Coopers Hotel (Newtown is my local neighbourhood – I’ve lived, worked and socialised here for close twenty years.)

While we were having a drink a group of police with sniffer dogs came into the bar – in full uniform, with capsicum spray and guns strapped to their belts – the mood of the pub changed instantly. The tension rose, the feeling of threat, the sense of fear/guilt/illegality/intimidation was palpable – but it also was not something new to those of us who lived in the area…

For years we had been handing out ‘sniff off’ stickers at music festivals, we had joined street actions and taken over community meetings showing our opposition to sniffer dogs and this type of intimidating action by the NSW police – but that night, for me, it became personal.

A short time after the police and dogs left the Bank I got a phone call from a friend who was with my partner at the Coopers – he sounded shaken up, and said that I should come to the Coopers straight away as Kristian – my partner – had been arrested.

I left my drink, and raced down King St, to see my friend standing on the footpath and my partner looking pale, in pain and sitting handcuffed on the ground outside the pub.

There were a number of police around – a few of them searching a guy (including getting him to drop his jeans) in the clear view of passers by – and more of them standing over my partner around the corner.

At this point you might think I’m going to tell you that my partner was carrying a joint – or a few pills – but in fact the item he had in his possession which caused him to now be sitting, handcuffed, shocked and in pain due to what we found out later to be a broken rib caused by the police, was his NSW Law Society Solicitors card.

Neither the guy in the pub who was being searched by the police and dogs in the Coopers, nor my partner, who attempted to assist, were in possession of drugs.

My partner was charged. He had his rib broken by the police as a result of him offering legal assistance to someone – and we went through about a year of legal battles to first get off the charges and then to hold the NSW police to account by suing them for damages…

In the end the charges were dismissed by the magistrate, including legal costs being awarded (paid for by the police) and the supreme court recorded a verdict in favour of Kristian and a substantial award of damages…

What’s clear from this incident is that it’s not about sniffer dogs, it’s not about drug use – it’s about police harassment and intimidation.

But what always concerned us is how many others experience this situation at the hands of the NSW police and don’t ever see justice.

Not everyone who experiences unjust searches are lawyers and human rights advocates…nor do they have the resources available to fight the system – and that’s why it’s not okay to just seek justice and damages after the fact, it’s why we need to put an end to this practice outright.

****

Data obtained by David Shoebridge’s office revealed serous concerns. As it was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald: - “searches are not spread evenly across the city, with people at Redfern train station far more likely to be searched than those at Central or Kings Cross stations, even though Redfern searches are less likely to identify drugs.”

Of the 17, 746 searches conducted after a dog gave a positive indication last year, 11,331 turned up no drugs – that’s over 11,000 people who had their rights violated and faced unjustified harassment and humiliation in public spaces with the last year.

And of those remaining – only 433 searches resulted in a successful supply conviction – that’s an appalling 2.44% success rate.

In Redfern, there were 1000 searches in the last year and people are 6.5 times more likes to be searched at Redfern than at Central. Redfern has the highest false positive rate for sniffer dog indications of any local area command 

It needs to be asked – why?

Why have successive NSW governments failed to act on unjustified drug searches as a result of sniffer dogs.

Given that far fewer than 1% of NSW illicit drug users are found with drugs during a drug operation – and that in the period from 2007-2010 when NSW doubled the number of searches we say an increased in the rate of recent illicit drug use from 12.1% to 13.8% - it is clear that this is about something other than drug detection…and it’s certainly NOT about harm minimisation.

It also needs to be asked why Redfern?

An area with a long, strong and proud connection with Sydney’s aboriginal community – who have consistently faced the brunt of over-policing and disproportionate law and order agendas.

It’s also an area with a high proportion of young people and students and a station used by many who live in nearby public and community housing – all of which are more likely to struggle to find the resources available to fight such harassment and intimidation.

****

The impact of this intimidation and use of sniffer dogs and large groups of police in our public spaces – at train stations, music festivals, community gatherings and social spaces, like our local pubs pubs – has broader implications to our society and our ablity to live in a community where we feel safe.

I worked at Amnesty International as a human rights and crisis campaigner for over five years in Sydney, London and Hong Kong – during this time coordinating campaigning, activism and advocacy responses to emerging and worsening human rights situations in countries such as Burma, Tunisia/Egypt/Libya/Syria/Bahrain and China – I have seen the role that the long and violent arm of police forces play in implementing the regressive agendas of those in power.

I am not suggesting for a moment that the situation in NSW is comparable to the rights violations or type of oppression happening in some of these countries – however, given my experience of the close connection between governments who seek to undermine and violate the rights of their citizens and the use of police powers of intimidation and force to implement this agenda – I do feel we need to stand up and speak out whenever we see this occurring.

In NSW we have a police FORCE – not a service.

We have a law and order agenda which seeks to continually wage failed war on drugs.

And we see the police used to implement many laws that are not based on evidence for how it will keep our community safe but instead implemented to advance a specific political agenda – vested-interest and influence over decisions in NSW are not limited to the business of the corporate sector alone.

There are significant implications of this – when people have experienced intimidation or harassment at the hands of police, do they think twice before they call if they need help? How does this serve our community?

We need to see a commitment to evidence-based, community policing in NSW – where the police are a public service NOT a force with extraordinary powers, guns and tasers.

And we need to see an end to the Law and order / war on drugs debacle and a strengthening of a harm minimisation approach to drugs. Instead of funding police and sniffer dogs at train stations and music festivals why not a government program that supports mobile testing sites? Or if we must have such a high police presence ready to ‘bust’ people – why not amnesty bins with them to prevent people ingesting drugs so as not to get caught?

The criminalisation of people who use drugs is a clearly failed approach. Attempting to respond to a social and health issues with a law and order agenda not only doesn’t work but further entrenches the social divisions that isolates and disenfranchises members of our community. 

[And if giving police new powers is really about making our communities safer why did we see a suite of legislative measures to wind back our civil liberties and shut down our nightlife in response to the tragic death of one young man – but are still failing to see any whole of government response to the fact that we see approximately one woman per week in NSW dying as a result of domestic violence.]

It is clear the agenda isn’t about harm minimisation and keeping communities safe…otherwise successive governments in NSW wouldn’t have continued to fund drug dog programs that are failing to deliver on outcomes.

****

While David Shoebridge has done a significant amount of work in the upper house against the intimidation and harassment caused by sniffer dogs, it is clear that the impact of the General Drug Dog Program is particularly relevant to our local area.

It is clear that it is an important local issue – that is impacting on the rights and civil liberties of people who live here –and that is why tonight I am making a commitment to you.

If elected as the Greens member for the new state seat of Newtown – which sits on Gadigal land and stretches from Surry Hills to Lewisham, taking in this wonderful suburb of Redfern – and it’s station. That if elected, I will introduce a bill in the Lower House of the NSW Parliament to end the General Police Drug Dog Program in NSW.

It is clear that our local area needs a strong voice standing up against sniffer dogs.

It is disappointing to note that in the parliamentary debate on the expansion of drug dog related powers – expanding ability for drug dog use across stations and streets and other public places in Kings cross without the need for a search warrant – to see the Labor Candidate for Newtown, then speaking in her role as opposition transport spokesperson, not only failed to speak out against the use of sniffer dogs but voted in favour of the expansion. 

It is also clear that the NSW police have better things to do than interfere with the freedom of people to go about their business. The General Police Drug Dog Program in NSW is nothing more than state sanctioned harassment and intimidation on public transport, in our pubs and clubs, and at festivals.

And it is clear that the impact of the intimidation and harassment of the General Police Drug Dog Program in NSW has broader implications for our society and our ability to live as a community where no matter what your gender, gender identity, age, race, or religion, you have the right to feel safe and be free from harassment by police. 

We need to see evidence-based policing in NSW that is focused on serving and protecting the needs of the community, not an enforcement agency which contributes to the intimidation, mistrust and discrimination already faced by marginalised groups.

As a former human rights campaigner with Amnesty International, I am acutely aware of the how governments use police powers to implement regressive agendas and violate the rights of their citizens.

As locals, as activists, as people who want to be free to live in a society without fear of intimidation we must stand together.

As people who are already at risk of facing discrimination and intimidation from others in our community – the fact that we also face this risk from the police is unacceptable.

I look forward to working with you – in our community and if elected in March 2015 – as the Greens member for Newtown – to stamp out sniffer dogs, advocate for a harm minimisation approach to drugs and to establish independent oversight of NSW police.

Thank you.


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