This story is over 5 years old.


NSW Police Have Been Double-Counting Their Sniffer Dog Busts

Turns out drug detection dogs are even less effective than we thought.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU

It is, by now, a widely accepted fact that sniffer dogs are completely unreliable.

Here's what we know, according to the stats: that in 2016-17 drug detection dogs had a success rate of less than 15 percent. During this period taxpayers were footing a bill of $2000 per dog, per hour, to keep the war on drugs alive, while at least two young Australians have died at music festivals after swallowing all of their drugs at once in a bid to avoid detection.


If you believe the data, all those smiling labradors at the gates of Australia's music festivals are little more than an exorbitant waste of time, money, and lives. But the data's wrong. Because as it turns out, figures collected from a number of NSW drug busts over the past seven years have accidentally been counted twice: meaning sniffer dogs are even less effective than we previously thought.

The government's official reporting agency, the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR), admitted that they have been mistakenly inflating NSW's drug-related crime statistics by "double counting some drug possession incidents that came to police attention through a person search". The error is a result of BOCSAR tallying drug offences on behalf of NSW Police, when NSW Police had already tallied it themselves.

“When we saw they [NSW Police] were doing searches and they were proving positive [to drug detection] we just assumed they hadn't recorded that positive result, so we added it in ourselves," said BOSCAR director Dr Don Weatherburn. "That was a mistake because they were adding it in.”

Dr Weatherburn said these mistakes built gradually from 2010 onwards, with reports of cocaine and ecstasy possession being inflated by more than 30 percent in recent years. In 2017, a total of 13,350 recorded drug use or possession incidents never actually occurred, Fairfax reports.

Consequently, many of the numbers used to back up policy decisions and demonstrate the success of NSW Police's drug detection efforts have been significantly overstated.

"The real concern is this would have skewed the allocation of police resources into yet more resourcing on the failing war on drugs," said Greens MP David Shoebridge, who is loudly opposed to the use of sniffer dogs at events like music festivals. But Dr Weatherburn insists there is still reliable evidence suggesting an increase in the amount of people carrying and using illegal drugs, ABC reports.

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman noted that BOCSAR has since rectified the error, and suggested that the real statistics are in fact a positive endorsement of the government's hardline stance towards illicit substances.

"The community should be comforted to know drug possession offences are lower than BOCSAR had initially reported," Mr Speakman said. "The Government does not apologise for taking a tough stance on illegal drugs."