Police drug dogs are a common sight at airports, music festivals and at any number of other places or events where police believe that there is a chance people may be carrying illegal drugs.
The law states that police aren’t allowed to search you for drugs unless they have a good reason.
If a drug dog identifies that you may be carrying drugs, this is often grounds enough for police to carry out a search.
Unfortunately, police drug dogs are notoriously inaccurate, with figures showing that they wrongly identify people as carrying drugs as many as four out of five times.
This can lead to innocent members of the public being wrongly searched – a humiliating and distressing experience for many.
Can I refuse a search if a police drug dog alerts?
According to the law, police need to have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect that you are carrying illegal drugs before they can search you.
While there is controversy as to whether or not a positive identification by a sniffer dog constitutes reasonable grounds, if a police sniffer dog does sit down next to you, police are legally allowed to search you.
You can refuse, but if you do, you may be taken to the police station and searched forcibly.
Can police detain me so the dog can sniff around me?
Police are not allowed to detain a person to allow a sniffer dog to detect the presence of drugs on them.
If you are in an area where sniffer dogs are being used you are legally allowed to leave, but this can be taken as ‘reasonable suspicion’ that you have drugs on your person, and could still lead to you being searched.
What can I do if the dog touches me?
Police dogs are not supposed to touch people.
If a sniffer dog touches you, you have the right to make an official complaint.
It is up to the police officer who is in charge of the dog to take reasonable measures to ensure the dog is under control, isn’t intimidating anyone, and doesn’t touch anybody.
If you want to make a complaint about a police sniffer dog, you will need to get as many details as possible about the circumstances surrounding the incident, including the name and rank of the officer in charge of the dog, the location where the incident happened, and the names of any witnesses who were also there.
You can make a complaint at your local police station in person or over the phone, or you can lodge a complaint with the NSW Ombudsman.
Once you have lodged a complaint, you should be kept informed of any progress with the complaint and advised of the final outcome.
Being searched for drugs after a false identification by a sniffer dog can be extremely upsetting and humiliating.
If a sniffer dog touches you in any way you have grounds for complaint against the police officer handling the dog.
Police sniffer dogs have long been identified as an inaccurate and unfair way to screen members of the public for drug possession.
Although police argue that sniffer dogs act as a deterrent, there is little evidence to support this, and the presence of sniffer dogs at music festivals and other events can even lead to people undertaking risky behaviour, including loading up on drugs before the event which can lead to overdoses.
If you have concerns about a drug dog operation, or you have been touched by a sniffer dog at an event, it’s a good idea to speak to a lawyer before you make an official complaint.