RLC in the Media: New South Wales: The Strip Search State

NSW police is running a quota system in relation to personal searches, as well as other police procedures.

Paul Gregoire reports for Sydney Criminal Lawyers

“Policing by numbers” is how NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge refers to the quota system. He’s the man who recently obtained the quota figures for personal searches and move on orders from all area commands across the state.

The number of personal searches set for the financial year 2018-19 was 241,632. The actual number of searches that were carried out over the 12-month period was 238,813 – so, slightly under. This year’s target is 237, 089.

“This is a policy that almost guarantees that the legal prerequisite for a search won’t be met,” Shoebridge said. “It’s a policy designed to make police breach the law and end up searching people not based upon what they see or the suspicion that they genuinely hold.”

Section 21 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act (the LEPRA) 2002 (NSW) outlines that officers can only stop and search a person if they “suspect on reasonable grounds” that they’re holding an item that’s stolen or related to a crime, or they possess prohibited drugs.

The four-year period ending in June 2018 also saw a 47 percent increase in strip search use in NSW. This is despite section 31of the LEPRA requiring a serious and urgent reason for such a search to be conducted.

NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller states during September 2018 budget estimate hearings that there had “not been a change in policy in relation to strip searches”.

Mr Shoebridge and Redfern Legal Centre’s head of the police accountability practice Samantha Lee both insisted there must have been an official change in policy driving this drastic rise in strip searches.

“We see this as a key part of the puzzle,” Shoebridge said. “We now know that part of the problem is the fact that police are having to meet a quota of a quarter of a million searches every year, regardless of whether they’re justified.”

Following the release of the figures, NSW police stated that the quotas are part of its “proactive policing strategies”.

Mr Shoebridge describes this type of “aggressive” policing as “a guaranteed policy to abuse people’s human rights and to breach the law on searches”. And he added that “it’s about policing by numbers, rather than by responding to the circumstances on the ground.”

Read the full article here (Sydney Criminal Lawyers, 21 February 2020)