Being approached by police with a sniffer dog as you get off the train, and then being taken behind a screen and ordered to strip naked by armed officers sounds like something that would happen living under an authoritarian regime or within the pages of an Orwell novel.
However, since the NSW Police Force deployed strip search screens to the platforms at Sydney’s Central Railway Station in early 2019, this sort of invasive incident is an everyday part of life living within the liberal democracy that operates in this state.
The Sniff Off campaign has warned for a decade that when drug dogs indicate subsequent searches result in nothing being found two-thirds to three quarters of the time. And as the Ombudsman’s report found when something is located, it’s most often a tiny amount of cannabis.
So, it’s for these small quantities of a relatively harmless drug that’s increasingly being legalised globally that numerous citizens statewide are strip searched every year. And this practice has been widely acknowledged to be a form of sexual assault by the state that leaves victims traumatised.
Paying for its sins
The warrantless use of sniffer dogs in public is commonplace nowadays, although at the turn of the century, the dogs were yet to be introduced. And as the UNSW Rethinking Strip Searches by NSW Police report outlines, strip search use increased twentyfold over the 12 years to June 2018.
A key issue regarding illegal strip searches is the overly broad and vague wording of the protocols set out in the NSW legislation, as well as the fact that when they’re carried out in the field, there is supposed to be a “seriousness and urgency” about the matter that make the strip search necessary.
Of course, the small amounts of cannabis that are found in the majority of successful searches are hardly a serious matter warranting urgency of detection.
NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge managed to obtain the figures relating to payouts from the public purse that the NSW Police Force used to settle and defend misconduct claims against its officers over the financial year 2019-20, and this came to a total of $24,164,658.82.
The point the Greens justice spokesperson made on receiving the data is that rather than continue to hide the details around misconduct payouts, patterns of where officers are overstepping the mark, as well as gaps in training, could be discerned and used to improve NSW police practice.
Getting one’s just desserts
Recent law graduate, Luke Brett Moore knows all too well about police misconduct, having been subjected to it on a number of occasions. And the NSW resident also knows how to seek the compensation he’s owed, having successfully sued the NSW Police Force on a number of occasions.
Earlier this year, Moore launched ISUEPOLICE.com, which is a service to help victims of police abuse seek the compensation they’re owed in the courts.
ISUEPOLICE.com can assist in claims relating to unlawful searches, unlawful arrests, excessive force, strip searches, corruption, brutality and assault.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to ISUEPOLICE.com founder Luke Brett Moore about the experiences with police his clients have had, the changing face of policing that necessitates a service like the one he’s offering and the compensation that the victims of police abuse are owed.
We last spoke in September in relation to ISUEPOLICE.com, a service you established, which assists those who’ve suffered abuse at the hands of NSW police in seeking just compensation.
Since then, you’ve started receiving clients. Luke, what sort of cases is ISUEPOLICE.com taking on? What do they involve?
I’ve heard from almost 200 victims of police abuse from all around the country in the last five weeks. And I believe no one in the country has spoken directly to as many victims of police abuse in the last month than me.
I’ve spoken with so many victims I can’t find lawyers fast enough to take on the cases. And I’ve begun to notice patterns in police behaviour from different states.
For example, Queensland police appear to be sleazing on victims of domestic violence and have a habit of abusing AVOs for personal gain.
Western Australia police are coming off as racist, and Victoria police are prone to violence and excessive force.
While NSW police appear to have no idea about the law, particularly COVID rules.
I’ve heard from almost a dozen people who spent a week or more in solitary confinement because they were in breach of public health orders for simple things like being out of their zone or not wearing masks. And I am not kidding on that point.
So, I’ve heard from all types of people from all types of background, and many are educated professionals who are getting abused, assaulted and stitched up by police.
Broadly speaking, why would you say there is a need for a service like ISUEPOLICE.com in NSW?
There is a need for such a service in NSW, and Australia generally, because the militarised policing strategies adopted over the last decade are causing the community to live in fear of the police and has led to the unlawful assaults of tens of thousands of people every year.
This includes an estimated thousand people who are acquitted of resisting or assaulting police because the courts find that the police were acting unlawfully.
Almost all of those people are entitled to compensation but only a fraction of them know their rights and even less take legal action and sue.
I would like to use this opportunity to put a call out to anyone that this has happened to in the last six years to get in touch with us by completing the online police complaints survey, as we plan on launching a sustained litigation against police to force them to change their practices and take measures to improve police accountability.
If any criminal lawyers are reading this, they can call me directly if they would like to know more.
You come to the table with experience, as you’ve sued NSW police on three occasions. What have your experiences been like going through the courts?
My experiences through the courts have been long, expensive and traumatising. My experience through the system, which I believe is broken, is the reason why I am doing things differently at ISUEPOLICE.com.
My most recent experience ended up with me $60,000 deep to my lawyers and at risk of a negative cost order that could have cost me my house. The state was willing to spend $300,000 of taxpayer money defending an unlawful search they’d already accepted fault and liability over.
So, on principle, I offered to settle the matter today for one dollar in damages, with costs to be assessed, and I am waiting to hear their response as I am talking to you.
Other people have had similar experiences in going through the courts where excessive legal fees cut so much into any settlement that the time, effort, energy and trauma required to receive justice is almost not worth the risk or personal toll.
So, at ISUEPOLICE.com, our goal is to reduce legal fees to as low as possible, which we believe can happen by bringing thousands of claims against the state at the same time.
Since we last spoke, you’ve also decided to have ISUEPOLICE.com registered as a charity. What does this involve? And why take this approach?
A number of weeks ago, I made an offer to the Australian government that ISUEPOLICE.com would operate as a charitable organisation in Australia if the states set up a system of fixed price settlements for legitimate and provable claims of police abuse.
The government has shown no interest, and they have made clear that they would rather continue to spend millions of dollars every year fighting off victims of police abuse in court, rather than to negotiate fair and reasonable settlements as soon as possible.
So, I am now looking for a lawyer to draw up some paperwork to sell off a 49 percent stake in ISUEPOLICE.com to various people and organisations who are willing to assist and offer support.
This will help fund a team of inhouse lawyers so we can quickly and effectively run hundreds of cases against the police at the same time.
The police made this about money, so we are making it about money also.
Last year, David Shoebridge revealed that NSW police had paid out over $24 million in settling or defending police misconduct claims over the year 2019-20.
In terms of police misconduct, ISUEPOLICE.com can help civilians seeking justice after such an incident. But unlawful practices continue.
So, what would you say needs to be done more broadly, so that people don’t need to seek justice after the fact?
The solution is simple: massive and sustained litigation for every victim of police abuse, including child victims of illegal strip searches.
We know that there are thousands of strip searches in NSW every year. Most people in the legal industry worth their salt, accept that the majority of these strip searches are illegal.
So, ISUEPOLICE.com is putting a call out to everyone who has been strip searched in the last six years – and even further back – to fill in our police complaints survey.
We reasonably believe that under the threat of thousands of claims from victims of police abuse that the police will be forced to change their practices, as it will simply be too expensive for them if they don’t.
I’ve just written an article for True Crimes News Weekly about the potential $22.8 billion cost to the taxpayer if the police don’t suit this out very soon.
Luke, you graduated with a law degree from Charles Sturt University last month.
A phone conversation you had with NSW police earlier this year led to your wrongful arrest and detainment in solitary confinement for three weeks. During that conversation you explained to the constable involved that citizens who’ve been illegally searched are entitled to be compensated.
So, for those out there who have been strip searched and are concerned it was done illegally, can you explain how you can sort them out?
That’s correct regarding my degree. I’m waiting for my certificate to come in the mail. Then I have some training to do before seeking admission. For now, I’m a consultant with a law degree not a lawyer, and I’m a founder of ISUEPOLICE.com.
If anyone has been strip searched, or feels they’ve been mistreated, abused or assaulted by police, they should fill in our online police complaints survey, which has a series of multiple choice and short answer questions. Then click the submit button at the bottom of the page. It’s that simple.
There are a few questions in there about mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder and how the police have affected the person and their family.
There are many organisations interested in bringing a claim against the police for every victim of police abuse whose mental health has been impacted by inappropriate or unlawful police tactics.
One last thing, our belief is that the more surveys we have pulled out, the better position we will be in to negotiate a settlement for everybody at the same time and to force police to make changes to improve police accountability.