The recent debate on pill testing has re-ignited questions surrounding the use of Sniffer Dogs by police at music festivals.
The NSW Police Force state that they utilise sniffer dogs to aid in locating illicit drugs. The power of the police to use sniffer dogs comes from the Police Powers (Drug Detection Dogs) Act 2001 (NSW).
Many concerns have been expressed about the reliability as well as implications of the use of sniffer dogs, such as strip searches performed, or cases where entry to a festival has been denied despite no prohibited drugs even being found on a person.
When can the police search you?
In order to conduct a lawful search of a person’s body, a police officer needs to be able to show that they formed a reasonable suspicion that a person is currently in possession of an illicit drug.
When a sniffer dog makes an indication that they may have found the scent of illicit drugs, usually by sitting next to the scent, police policy states that this is reasonable grounds to conduct a search of your body. When police are present at a festival, it is harder for them to establish reasonable grounds for a search when not using sniffer dogs.
How accurate are sniffer dogs?
A report prepared by the New South Wales Ombudsman found that almost every indication by a sniffer dog resulted in a member of the public being searched. However, interestingly, approximately 75% of those searched were not found to be in possession of illicit drugs. This indicates that the accuracy of sniffer dogs in identifying people actually carrying drugs is only around 25%.
What to do if no illicit drugs are found
It is important to note that in the event a sniffer dog makes an indication next to you, and no illicit drugs are found, you are not required to provide any personal details or further information to the officer as no offence has been committed. An example of this may be if a police officer asks you why the sniffer dog may have made an indication toward you. In this situation you are under no obligation to provide the police with an explanation. If you do provide an explanation, that information may be retained by police for use in their intelligence reports.
It has been suggested that in the instance where an indication has been made and no illicit drugs found, that this may be due to the person either previously consuming or being in the possession of the drug, or having been around another person who has used the drug.
What drugs are most commonly found?
In a study conducted by the NSW Ombudsman it was found that the following drugs were most commonly detected by sniffer dogs:
Cannabis was overwhelmingly common, being responsible for approximately 84% of all drugs found. Further, the majority of positive indications by sniffer dogs were made on public transport.
What to do if found in possession of illicit drugs
In the event that a sniffer dog does indicate towards you and you are found to either be in possession of or supplying illicit drugs, it is important to seek expert legal advice as soon as possible.