RLC in the Media: Newly updated 'personal search manual' encourages 'unlawful' strip searches by police

NSW Police have released a new manual on instructions for conducting a controversial practice that has been slammed by legal experts.

Gavin Fernando reports for news.com.au

The freshly updated NSW Police Person Search Manual, publicly released this month, encourages police to make people “squat”, “lift testicles”, “lift breasts’ and “part buttock cheeks” while being strip searched.

The new manual, seen by news.com.au, has been issued amid increasing pressure on police to wind back their use of drug dogs and strip searches.

Samantha Lee, head of police accountability at Redfern Legal Centre, said the manual was legally confusing and encouraged potentially unlawful practices.

“The manual prescribes actions that arguably go beyond the powers of LEPRA (Law Enforcement Powers and Responsibilities Act), such as the authority to direct a person to squat and cough, the parting of buttock cheeks, turning a person’s body to face a different directions and using a strip search as a first port of call,” she said.

Ms Lee said the manual should be amended so that stripsearches were only conducted in rare circumstances.

“Although the manual offers some clarity on how police should interpret the limits and extent of the power to stripsearch, it still fails to ensure that these highly invasive searches occur only in the most exceptional circumstances. This is why legislative change is so urgently needed.”

However, Ms Lee did commend the release of the manual as an important step towards improved transparency by police.

The Rethinking Strip Searches by NSW Police report, commissioned by Redfern Legal Centre 9RLC) revealed the number of strip searches conducted in NSW has increased almost 20-fold over the past 12 years.

It also found that police suspicion that a person possesses prohibited drugs accounts for 91 per cent of all recorded reasons as to why they conduct a strip search, yet only 30 per cent of such searches resulted in a criminal charge.

“If they were being conducted in any other circumstance, if you take sensitive police powers out of the questions, it would be … quite a serious assault”, report co-author Dr Michael Grewcock said.

Read the full article here (News.com.au, 27 September 2019)