A state police watchdog will investigate New South Wales police officers over the strip-search of multiple minors at an underage music festival. As part of an ongoing investigation into the practice of strip-searching minors — as well as the possible misuse of the power to strip-search in general — the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission will hold public hearings into the search of “several young people” at Sydney’s Lost City Music festival, which took place in February, The Guardian reported.
Claims that officers unlawfully strip-searched minors are just the latest in a string of allegations of NSW police abusing their search powers. State laws stipulate that officers are only able to conduct a strip-search outside of a police station if the urgency and seriousness of the situation demands it, and that a parent or guardian must be present for the search of minors. The use of the practice in the context of music festivals, however, has been heavily criticised — particularly in the last few months.
At an LECC hearing in October, commissioner Michael Adams QC questioned under what circumstances it would be urgent for an officer to conduct a strip search at a music festival. A senior constable responded by admitting that all 19 strip searches he conducted at the 2018 Splendour in the Grass festival may have been illegal.
In spite of the damning accusations levelled at the force, however, state police commissioner Mick Fuller continues to defend the controversial practice. Following revelations this month that police performed strip-searches on more than 100 girls in the last three years, including two 12-year-olds and eight 13-year-olds, Fuller suggested that cutting back strip-searches would result in a "generation of kids that have no respect for authority."
“The reality is we need to be a police force and part of that is searching people — which doesn't make everyone happy — but people need to know there are consequences especially those who are criminals or on the verge of being criminals,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “They need to have respect and a little bit of fear for law enforcement.”
Fuller went on to claim that curtailing strip-searches could lead to an increase in knife crime, despite the fact that less than 1 percent of all searches in NSW are conducted for that reason.
In response to Fuller’s comments, former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Palmer came out this week to challenge the NSW police commissioner and condemn his “frightening” attitude toward policing. In an opinion piece published by the Sydney Morning Herald, Palmer — who is now an outspoken drug law reform and harm minimisation advocate — stressed that “the impression that respect for police may need the creation of a ‘little bit of fear’ is frankly in my opinion frightening.
“As a long-time colleague of NSW police and a friend of several past commissioners it is the first time I have ever heard the use of the word ‘fear’ as a basis for gaining respect and I am saddened by its use,” he said. Palmer also stated that Fuller’s attempt to defend the strip-search of young men and women by linking it to knife crime prevention was “simply unjustifiable.”
“Police are given without-warrant powers to stop, search and detain sparingly and with good reason,” he said. “Such powers, particularly those involving strip searching, are intrusive and intimidatory. They need to be used prudently and carefully and with clear evidence of reasonable cause.”
The LECC hearings into the strip-search of minors at Lost City will take place over the course of four days from December 2.