Aboriginal Elder Strip Searched on Busy Sydney Road


The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission announced at the end of October that it was launching an investigation into the use of strip searches by NSW police. The inquiry is in response to growing allegations that officers are abusing their powers.

This was against a backdrop of a growing awareness that strip search use is increasing in this state. Figures released last July revealed that police have almost doubled the amount of strip searches they’re conducting following a positive indication from a drug detection dog.

Then NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge released data late last month that shows over the last four years the NSW Police Force has increased its use of this invasive practice by 47 percent: up from 3,735 strip searches in 2014-15 to 5,483 in 2017-18.

There’s also been reports emerging of disturbing trends in the way these searches are being applied. Reports out of rural NSW reveal officers have been using this technique on Aboriginal children as young as 11. While other reports indicate police aren’t following the required protocol.

And now, Sydney Criminal Lawyers has seen footage that shows an illegal strip search being conducted in an inner city area. It involved an Aboriginal elder being forced to remove his clothes in broad daylight on the high street.

My speaker is broken He said to me I’m not worried your recording I said you will be then he said he’ll arrest me next. Under cover Glebe police arresting a elder. The hospital give out needles to the public so why target a black man, I’m sure they walk past plenty of people that would be drug users. I wish I got the start where they approached him walking past, questioning him then cuffed him n said your under arrest so they could conduct a search. It’s so important to know your rights being a Aboriginal person in this country because constitutionally we do have seperate rights. This shook me. After this I brought my book i ran out in in tears having an anxiety attack. We need to Stand strong and use your voice in situations like this no more silencing it’s been hundreds of years of sweeping under he rug fear of police, oppression, trauma & murder and deaths in custody. times have changed and we will stand up. Copper Looking real sorry only after the public showed concern #generationaltrauma take the law into their own hands #selfrighteous

Posted by TP Roberts on Monday, 7 January 2019

An abuse of power

When the footage begins the First Nations man is standing handcuffed in his underwear on Glebe Point Road, out the front of popular bookstores. Two plain clothes police officers – a man and a woman both of Anglo appearance – are standing before him.

This scene appears to be a clear breach of police strip search powers, which are set out in division 4 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities Act) 2002 (LEPRA). Section 33 of the legislation stipulates that a search must be carried out in a “private area”, not a public street.

The male officer is seen to push the detained man up against a wall. Then he grabbed at the shirt that was hanging from the man’s handcuffed hands, before he clearly breached the requirements of the law once again by running his fingers around the inside of the elastic of the man’s underwear.

Section 33 also provides that a strip search cannot involve “an examination of the body by touch”. In 2017, a Sydney man was acquitted of his drug possession conviction after it was found on appeal that the officers involved breached the strip search laws in both these ways.

This roadside search further contravened the requirements of this section of the LEPRA in two additional ways. Firstly, strip searches must never be carried out by member of the opposite sex, and one of the officers was a woman.

And a strip search must not be conducted in the presence or view of anyone not needed for the purposes of the search, which would amount to all the passersby in the immediate vicinity, when the search took place on 8 January.

Roughing up the detainee

The male police officer next ordered the handcuffed man to sit down. And after he refused, the officer attempted to force him to the ground. The plain clothes officer eventually grabbed at the detainee’s legs, swept them off the ground, and caused the man’s back to firmly hit the footpath.

After the man sat up cross-legged, the female officer hovered over him, while her male counterpart searched through the older Indigenous man’s shoes and shorts. The officer retrieved a box of syringes from the gutter and held them up, as he asked the man why he had them in his possession.

The individual filming can be heard to say that the syringes in question can be obtained from the hospital for free. Indeed, there are literally hundreds of needle and syringe program outlets across the state, which are sponsored by the NSW government.

Five minutes into the fifteen minute clip, the female officer allows the man to pull his shirt back over his head, so he then continues to stand on the side of the road with his torso covered, although he remains in his underwear.

The unwarranted detention continues

The person filming from their phone can be heard telling another onlooker that the police initially stopped the man who was walking down the road for no apparent reason, then handcuffed him and ordered him to remove his clothing.

The filming individual further tells the other onlooker that the male officer said that he was not worried about being filmed, before threatening to arrest her next. It’s perfectly legal to film police officers as long as they are in a public place and it doesn’t hinder them in the execution of their duty.

As the minutes moved on, the handcuffed man began to call out to the male officer who was now sitting in an unmarked car parked at the side of the road. He demanded that the handcuffs be removed stating that as he was not actually under arrest, there was no reason to keep him cuffed.

The other onlooker made her way over to the police car and inquired about the removal of the handcuffs. She then relayed to the detained man that the officer told her that he didn’t have the key to the cuffs, and they were waiting for a third officer to turn up, so they could unlock them.

The male officer then made his way over to the man and informed him he was being issued with a move-on order and he would have to leave the area once the cuffs were removed. The detained man responded by telling him to move away, as the officer had already “assaulted” him once.

Then a third plain clothes officer arrived on the scene, the handcuffs were removed, and the Aboriginal elder walked free.

Intergenerational trauma

“This is the way you’ve treated black fellas for hundreds of years,” the detained man yelled out to the male officer seated in the car at one point. “For years, you’ve been treating my people like this. This is genocide, mate.”

The long history of Europeans detaining and incarcerating First Nations peoples in this country is well-known these days. The violence of the Frontier Wars broke out soon after the British arrived and continued on into the first half of last century.

Thousands of Indigenous children were ripped from their families during the 70-odd years of the Stolen Generations, while at present, Indigenous kids are still being forcibly removed from their families at disproportionate rates.

And today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are proportionally the most incarcerated people on earth. They account for 28 percent of the adult prison population in this country, but less than 3 percent of the overall populace.

“Are you aware of intergenerational trauma?” the other onlooker asked the female police officer prior to the arrival of the cuff key. “That’s what you’re doing by keeping him handcuffed. You’re triggering his trauma.”


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About Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on civil rights, drug law reform, gender and Indigenous issues. Along with Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he writes for VICE and is the former news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

10 comments

  1. Kate Hegarty

    We need a revolution. This is evil. Why are successive govts so cowardly as to never stand up against this thuggish treachery? When will we act on that terrible statistic of hyper incarceration? I don’t know what to do. How do whitefellas change this?

  2. Glynne Sutcliffe Huilgol

    This is frightful, terrifying. Police state on show. Blatant. And no scruples on show whatsoever. NSW cops seem to be competing with stories of roadside strip searches of teens in the US. So good work to write up. But why haven;t you contacted me to fill you in on the anecdotal stories that back up the theoretical points I have made in my 2 page flyer (on FB page on 23 N last.)The level of abuse is just as endemic – just targeted at another demographic sector vulnerable to stigma by rampaging modern version of Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins! Contact me for further details

  3. Melinda Gaye Flower

    I wonder if these police officers are compliant with their training. Glebe Police station reports under the Aboriginal Strategic Direction 2018 -2023 which means that Officers have to do the Working with Aboriginal Communities training.

  4. Debra

    So why aren’t Sydney Criminal Lawyers prosecuting the NSW POLICE FORCE private company for
    1. False Arrest,
    2. False Imprisonment,
    3. Assault,
    4. Trespass et al
    This abuse must stop from these private mercs who appear to have state sanctioned carte blanche to trespass & assault at will without being held accountable or without consequences…
    Reminds one of the ode:
    “First they came for….
    … Then there was no-one left for me…”

  5. Wiki

    What gives these two police officers the right to treat another human being like an animal, with no human rights or dignity! This is utterly disgusting that this elderly man had to be subjected to being treated like an animal in front of other people on a busy street wearing only his underwear! Then having the arrogant male pea brain copper search the poor mans undies, what do he expect to find, a sawn off shotgun maybe, ha!!! If this is how the Ozzie cops treat their indigenous people, the real Australians, then I am pleased I don’t live in that country! Absolutely horrendous, no wonder no one has faith in the Ozzie Law Enforcers anymore! Hope the arrogant prick gets his Ar@e kicked into next week 🤬😤😡

  6. Meaghan Morris

    This is absolutely shocking. A horrifying disgrace. Surely this vile behaviour by the police officer will be prosecuted? And if not, why not?

  7. Bill

    The report mentions the officers as being of Anglo appearance. Nope they are Australian police.

  8. Gil

    These PIGS deserve to be PENNED. This is police brutality pure and simple. Assault in company so not just one bad cop but two! Jail the bastards!

  9. Mandy Christie

    The action of this police officer is appalling. It distresses me immensely to see so called professional officers act in such a disrespectful arrogant and ignorant manner. All humans must be treated with dignity- all professionals should go about their job within the boundaries of their profession and not act with condescending and superior attitudes and behaviours. Shame on this policemen – he should look at himself in the mirror and make an immediate commitment to himself and his community to stop this bullying and from this day forward be the positive difference for others, read his code of conduct and live by his organisation’ s vision mission statement or get sacked Also he needs to do community service for the whole of his next annual leave and work as a volunteer with indigenous people.

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