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Drug Dog Use Questioned

Katherine Danks, news.com.au, 15th September 2006

NEW South Wales drug sniffer dogs have been been branded an expensive failure.

It follows a report showing that prosecutions result from fewer than one per cent of the searches the dogs initiate.

NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour today said there was little value in using dogs to screen people in public places in the hope of tracking down drug dealers.

An ombudsman report tabled in NSW Parliament today showed just 19 out of more than 10,000 people tested for drugs were prosecuted for drug supply between 2002 and 2004.

But the NSW Government says it won't pension off the sniffer dogs, insisting they contribute to breaking down the illicit drug trade.

“I think 19 people prosecuted successfully for the use or supply of drugs, that are illicit drugs, is an entirely satisfactory outcome,” Acting Police Minister David Campbell said.

The Police Powers (Drug Detection Act) came into force in February 2002 with the aim of targeting drug supply.

It gave police the power to search people without a warrant in entertainment venues and on public transport.

But today's report, released two years after it was completed, questioned whether the laws should exist at all after finding most people searched were found not to be carrying drugs.

Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said the dogs harass young people who use recreational drugs and are ineffective at catching the “Mr Bigs”.

“Today's release of the ombudsman's report, after the Greens used parliament to force the Government to release it, exposes that sniffer dogs have been an expensive failure,” Ms Rhiannon said.

Opposition police spokesman Mike Gallacher supported their use, saying it was less intrusive for police to enter a nightclub with sniffer dogs than to obtain a search warrant, shut the premises down and strip-search people inside.

The ombudsman's report showed most people found to be carrying drugs had very small amounts of cannabis for personal use.

Other drugs located during the two-year review period included ecstasy, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.

The majority of people successfully prosecuted for supply were carrying drugs for their friends or partners at large events, such as dance parties, the report said.

It also said there was anecdotal evidence to suggest that drug dog operations may encourage persons to “engage in risky drug taking practices”.

Mr Barbour said he had “significant reservations” about whether the use of sniffer dogs in public places will ever effectively target drug suppliers.

“Despite the best efforts of police, the evidence suggests that there is little value in trying to identify drug dealers by screening people with drug detection dogs in public places,” he said.

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