RLC in the Media: More than 5,500 people get NSW police record after strip searches which found nothing illegal

New data obtained by RLC reveals that 61% of people strip searched between 2018-2020 had their details needlessly logged in the police database, after nothing illegal was found.

Michael McGowan reports for the Guardian

Data obtained by Redfern Legal Centre has revealed that between 2018 and 2020, over 5,500 people had their details recorded in the Computerised Operational Policing System, also known as Cops, despite their searches finding nothing illegal.

Sam Lee, police accountability solicitor at RLC, said this data showed that “more than half the people needlessly subjected to this traumatic procedure are left with a permanent record for no reason”.

NSW police drug detection dog deployment standard operating procedures state that officers must obtain “explicit and informed consent” in circumstances where a search occurs and no offence is identified. Lee pointed out that officers are required to advise a searched person that they are “not obliged to provide their personal details” in instances where nothing is found.

The evidence suggests, however, that police may not be complying with this policy.

In its final report into the use of police strip search powers last year, the LECC criticised the practice of recording details of people who had not committed an offence. The report followed a series of inquiries into police power, one of which heard evidence that the Cops system was occasionally used to partially justify searching someone by officers.

The LECC’s final report said it was “concerned that Cops records which note the reasons for a search as ‘suspected illegal drug possession’ create a negative inference about the person searched”.

 "Once a person’s identity has been logged in the police system, it is there for life," Lee said.

"The fact that this is frequently occurring in cases where no crime has been committed is not only unjust, it is a complete misuse of power. This can have a tremendously negative impact on a person’s life, especially if that person happens to be Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.”

Read the full article here (The Guardian, 23 April 2021)