A Facebook page, operated by NSW MP David Shoebridge, has come under fire from the New South Wales police and Drug Free Australia for telling followers which train stations sniffer dogs are patrolling.
The Sniff Off Facebook page, which has over 13,000 followers, was set up as part of a Greens campaign against sniffer dog operations. It regularly posts information sent in by the public who spot drug sniffer dogs around the state, along with articles about the Government’s failed ‘War on Drugs’.
“These drugs are dangerous, and any deterrent such as the sniffer dog program will help to give people second thoughts,” Jo Baxter, a spokesperson from Drug Free Australia who is apparently unaware that respective comprehensive studies have shown that sniffer dogs have had no effect on drug consumption, said.
Scott Weber, President of the NSW Police Association, sounded equally oblivious when he attacked the page for putting people at risk. He claims “drug dogs are there to actually reduce harm to the community, save lives, and also educate people in regards to drug use,” despite evidence that their presence at music festivals actually encourages unsafe drug taking.
The duo’s comments were part of a recent a recent 7 News investigation (below) into the page, and while ‘Sniff Off’ has outraged some conservative viewers, the online response has turned out largely in support of Mr Shoebridge.
“What’s the point in the drug dogs? They find people with tiny bits of weed on them, fine them, and on your way. Drug dealers and suppliers are not catching trains. Such a waste of resources. I’d much prefer those dogs were trained to detect gunpowder/explosives rather than pot!” one Facebook commenter posted.
The 7 News Investigation
Police Trolling Facebook Page
Last month, NSW Police admitted that several of their officers had been involved in a campaign of disinformation, abusing members and lying about the whereabouts of sniffer dogs, to the Sniff Off page.
At 3:50 PM on February 29 this year, administrators of the Sniff Off page posted an alert saying there was a drug dog at Sydney’s Sydenham station. Two men posted multiple comments denying the dog was there. A few members of the public refuted this, insisting the dog was still present.
Eventually, the administrators posted the pair a message saying they may have missed the dog as “multiple sources” had confirmed its presence. That’s when a third man jumped in, saying the other sources needed to “get off the gear.”
During the exchange, one of the three also posted a meme in the thread that shows a police dog typing at a desk – the text reads, “Saw bad man. Bit bad man. End of report.”
The admins of the page investigated the matter further, and found all three men were Facebook friends. Suspecting they might be police, they ran their names through Google and found their hunch was correct.
David Shoebridge told VICE he’s outraged the officers made the comments on the Facebook page, especially as they didn’t identify who they were. But he also sees it as proof their campaign is having an impact.
“It’s unacceptable for any NSW Police officer to lie about police operations in a public forum,” Shoebridge said, adding that “the police are troubled by the success” of Sniff Off, but they “didn’t expect this sort of behaviour.”
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
The positive response to the 7 news video is just one sign that public sentiment is turning against sniffer dog operations. With more legal and health experts criticising the program, it is hoped that a change in public policy isn’t far behind.
Earlier last month, Sydney Criminal Lawyers reported the Greens MP Jenny Leong had proposed legislation to scrap the sniffer dogs program. She’s been joined by Labor’s Jo Haylen and the Independent Alex Greenwich who have also condemned the program.
“In NSW, the use of sniffer dogs by police on public transport, at festivals and in bars is not about effective drug control – it’s about police intimidation and harassment,” said Leong.
“The NSW drug dog program has been shown over and over again to be ineffective and a waste of public money. It’s also highly discriminatory – targeting already marginalised groups in our community – and a blatant breach of our civil rights.”
Recent statistics, obtained by Mr Shoebridge, support Leong’s assertions. Of the 3,948 sniffer dog searches conducted between 1 January 2014 and 18 May 2015, more than 80 per cent were false-positives.
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties has condemned the high rate of searches, which take place without a warrant, as an infringement on people’s freedom from arbitrary interference by the State. They argue the invasive searches cannot be justified, given the low rate of detections.
“We get some extraordinary complaints about the intrusiveness of the searches the police are doing. For example, in one complaint a woman said that the police made her open her bra on the street in full view of everybody on the street.” said Blanks.
Given the ineffectiveness of sniffer dogs – and the tragic consequences that have resulted from users ‘loading up’ before and during festivals, and wasted money policing the operations and sending casual drug users to court, and the intimidation and harassment caused– it is hoped that more politicians will see sense and start focusing on harm minimisation measures rather than wholesale and counter-productive interferences in personal liberties.