Police Commissioner’s Flawed Justification for Mass Strip Searches

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Strip searches by police

In response to escalating criticism of NSW police use of strip searches, and the completely deplorable revelations about how they’re being applied in the field, reigning police commissioner Mick Fuller came out swinging last week in support of his force’s mass use of this invasive practice.

Young Australians having “a little bit of fear” of police is a good thing, Fuller asserted in an exclusive interview. But, if we cast our minds back just a tad – and remember a time before police were degrading innocent teens in this manner – youths have always felt intimidated by police.

However, the 16-year-old girl ordered to get her kit off at Splendour in the Grass last year wasn’t feeling “a little bit of fear”. What she felt was abject terror, as officers conducted an illegal search upon her. She was asked to squat, while one officer knelt down and took a look underneath.

During an ABC interview last week, Fuller said the incident “doesn’t make me happy”. But, while the commissioner’s not chuffed about it, the girl is likely to be traumatised for years to come, especially when she remembers having to peel the pantyliner off her underwear so officers could take a peak.

State-sanctioned sexual assault

Every weekend, hundreds of parent’s wave goodbye to their teenagers, as they leave home to make their way to music festivals. And while these adults have some understanding that there will be a police presence at the event, they’re not really aware of what’s possibly in store for their offspring.

And if these same parents allowed a pair of armed adults take their child into a room and order them to take their clothes off, bend over, squat, lift their breasts, spread their butt cheeks, and look underneath them, it’s highly likely they’d be accused of running a paedophile ring.

Indeed, these hypothetical perverts commanding the teenager to strip naked and directing them into certain poses would be accused of a form of sexual assault. After recent changes to such laws in NSW, they’d probably go down for having committed the offence of aggravated sexual act.

So, in light of all this, it’s very unlikely that those parents bidding farewell to their teenage kids as they make way to an event would be comfortable about the prospect that this was what two uniformed strangers were potentially about to do to their child.

That’s unless the parent is NSW police minister David Elliott, who’s gone on the record, stating that if he “thought the police felt” his young children “were at risk of doing something wrong”, he’d “want them strip searched”.

A bit of a stretch

It’s well known that police standing out the front of festivals and demanding that young people strip naked, are doing so – for the vast majority of times: 91 percent to be exact – because they suspect on “reasonable” grounds that these youths might be holding some drugs for their own use.

But, Fuller has come out in defence of the NSW police mass strip search regime, with the justification of concealed knives. Yet, a recently released UNSW strip search report makes clear that this is the reason behind less than 1 percent of searches, and it only results in 1.5 percent of charges.

So, Fuller is conveying to those who believe that a person in his position tells the truth, that cops are stripping thousands of citizens in a bid to prevent an epidemic of knife crimes, when in actuality, they’re targeting people for taking drugs that could easily be safely legalised and regulated.

Image credit: Sniff Off

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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