This post originally appeared on VICE Australia.The New South Wales (NSW) Police drug dog presence at this month's Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was substantial, as it has been in previous years. After having marched in the parade Tom, who prefers to keep his last name private, made his way to the after-party. The 28-year-old health industry worker arrived at the Moore Park event wearing a large backpack, only to be confronted by an officer with a dog.
"The handler was on the other side of the crowd. He made eye contact with me. I was nowhere near the dog, but as I was walking in and joined the line, he walked through the crowd towards me. He put his hand on my backpack before the dog even indicated and then the dog sat down," he told VICE.Tom was then led away by police officers to a tent nearby, where he was subjected to persistent questioning and his bag was searched. He was then told to take off his clothes and squat before the officers. No drugs were found on him, as he didn't have any."It's anxiety provoking. I know a lot of people who avoid major parties like that because of the sniffer dogs, even if they're not planning on taking any drugs," Tom said. "If you have drugs or not, there's still the potential there to take you off and subject you to that humiliating experience."But the LGBTQI community is not the only marginalized group to be targeted by the NSW Police Dog Unit.Last year, NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge obtained figures from the NSW Police Minister outlining that in 2013 17,746 people were searched by police after being indicated by dogs. And of these searches 64 to 72 percent were false indications, where no drugs were found. In cases where drugs were found most were of small amounts for personal use, with only 2.44 percent of positive searches resulting in a supply conviction."There are people being heavily over policed by the use of drug dogs. A passenger getting off at Redfern station is six and a half times more likely to be searched than a passenger getting off at Central. What distinguishes those populations is that Redfern has a very large Aboriginal population and a large young student population," Shoebridge said. "Redfern is over policed. They've got a higher false positive rate and a lower detection rate."
Ray Jackson, president of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, said Redfern station is the most heavily searched area by drug dogs in Sydney. And while there are a lot of university students, the police mainly target Aboriginal people, especially the youth. "The coppers use this as a tool to further harass people. There have been instances where they've been taken from Redfern station over to the police station and they've been stripped searched and nothing is generally found. So I don't know why they continue to do it," he said.Jackson, a Wiradjuri man, explained police are also conducting dog searches in and around the Department of Housing blocks in nearby Waterloo. Tenants, visitors, and tradespeople are all subject to being searched and this is terrifying some of the older tenants.Over the last three years, the largest expansion of drug dog operations has been the NSW Police Transport Command, who patrol the City Rail network. These searches have resulted in an 80 percent false positive rate. According to Will Tregoning, director of harm reduction organization Unharm, these searches are more likely to target people from a lower socioeconomic background, who have more tendency to be using public transport.
"Someone sees the drug dog operation and takes all their drugs at once in order to avoid detection, which was clearly implicated in the death of James Munro at Defqon 1 in 2013." - Will Tregoning