When the Berejiklian government announced in late December that it would not be renewing the contract of the head of the state’s sole police watchdog, there was widespread speculation it was to do with his strip search inquiry.
As the commissioner of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC), Michael Adams QC had been overseeing the inquiry, which involved some stark accounts of how NSW police officers had been oblivious to or disregarded protocols, when conducting strip searches on minors at festivals.
Announced in October 2018, the LECC investigation was sparked by “specific accounts and anecdotal information” as to how officers had been misapplying the invasive procedure. And this coincided with rising public outcry over the dramatic increase in the use of these searches by NSW police.
However, it was still a shock for many when the LECC announced last week that the strip search inquiry was being brought to an end mid-way, as it was a blatant display of a puppet master pulling the strings behind the scenes. And it was literally five days after Adams finished up.
Abuse of powers
“What we saw was a terrible picture of young people being humiliated, police not knowing the most basic features of the law, and a system that could only be described as designed to humiliate and abuse the civil rights of young people,” said NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge.
“That evidence was compelling,” he added. “And that evidence led the government to do everything it could to shut down the inquiry.”
Held last October, the first set of inquiry hearings delved into strip searches conducted at 2018’s Splendour in the Grass festival. And it involved one police officer admitting to having conducted up to 19 strips searches in an unlawful manner at the event.
While the second set of hearings were held in December. Named Operation Gennaker, these proceedings heard an account that involved a police officer saying to a 15-year-old naked boy, “hold your dick and lift your balls up and show me your gooch”.
“There’s no doubt that the sacking of the commissioner is linked to the inquiry wrapping up early,” Shoebridge told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “This is a pretty awful case of political interference from the government in what’s meant to be an independent police oversight body.”
A force to be reckoned with
Those loudly advocating to bring a halt to the overuse of strip searches by NSW police were hoping the inquiry was a sign that this could happen. Although, with Adams gone and the inquiry shutdown, the authorities seem to have different ideas as to how these operations are running.
Mr Shoebridge hasn’t given up hope though. The NSW Greens justice spokesperson said he expects that the police watchdog will produce a high quality report on strip searches. And he commends the LECC team on the work they’ve done.
“The big takeaway is that NSW police and the NSW Police Association remain two of the most powerful political players in NSW,” Shoebridge added.
“There’s no doubt that they put pressure on both the police minister and the premier to ensure that Michael Adams did not get a further contract,” he concluded. “Once again, what the police want, they get.”
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.