RLC in the Media: NSW Police personal search targets revealed

NSW Police aimed to conduct almost a quarter of a million personal searches last financial year as part of a quota driven system.

Angus Thompson and Pallavi Singhal report for The Sydney Morning Herald

Figures revealed under freedom-of-information laws show individual police area commands are set targets for the execution of powers such as searches and move-on orders, with people in some areas targeted for searches at nearly 13 times the average rate.

The internal statistics show police aimed to undertake 241, 632 searches in the financial year ending June 2019, an eight per cent rise on the previous year’s target. The actual number of searches undertaken was 238,813, about 100 few than 2018.

The search target for 2019-20 is 237,089.

Former director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, QC, who is now the president of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, said the use of targets meant there was “great potential for abuse of power.”

“If a target is set by superior officers, especially a target that will be relevant to performance assessment, natural human response will be to seek to meet the target by proper of improper means – by fudging, by exercising power where it is not properly warranted,” he said.

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, who obtained the information, said personal searches could be traumatising and were only meant to be undertaken when police were satisfied they were necessary.

“The fact that people are being stopped and searched, not to address the circumstances on the ground, but to meet arbitrary quotas, is a dreadful development,” he said.

The figures, which include but do not distinguish strip searches conducted, come as the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission prepares to release its report into officers breaching search powers following public revelations of teenagers being illegally strip searched.

The revelations, couple with the rising number of strip searches, has prompted Redfern Legal Centre to call for the commission to investigate whether there is a correlation between the two.

Read the full article here (The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 February 2020)