RLC in the Media: Use of strip searches on rise in the Riverina

The number of strip searches performed by Riverina police increased by almost 20 per cent in the space of 12 months but senior command said the "necessary" tactic was used only in "reasonable" cases.

Rex Martinich reports for The Daily Advertiser 

According to police data released under freedom of information to the Redfern Legal Centre, the number of strip searches in the Riverina Police District increased from 52 in 2016-17 to 62 in 2017-18.

The number of searches within Wagga City Council boundaries decreased, but the figures were offset by a large increase at Junee, which saw its numbers nearly double to 36 cases.

Across NSW, the use of strip searches increased by 23 per cent. A NSW Police spokesperson said "there has been no change in NSW Police Force policies that has resulted in any increase of strip searches". 

"Strip searches are authorised under the provisions of Section 31 of the Law Enforcement Powers and Responsibilities Act which requires officers to act on reasonable grounds only when necessary, with dignity and respect for privacy.

"NSW Police is responsible for enforcing legislation on drug and weapon possession and supply. Police officers do not enjoy carrying out strip searches but it is a power that has been entrusted to us and in about one-third of the dog indicated searches that police undertake, we will find drugs."

The police spokesperson did not address questions about Riverina data, including questions on whether Junee Correctional Centre had contributed to the high level of strip searches. Riverina Police District was approached for comment.

Redfern Legal Centre is leading a coalition of community legal groups and the NSW Bar Association in a campaign to revise the rules and procedures around police strip searches.

"The rise in the incidence of strip searches may be an indication that such searches are being conducted without considering if the search is 'necessary for the purposes of the search and that the seriousness and urgency of the circumstances," the legal centre stated.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up 10 per cent of people searched despite being three per cent of the population.

Read the full article here (The Daily Advertiser, 17 June 2019).