Sniffer dogs looking for drugs get it wrong four out of five times, according to figures obtained by a Greens MP in New South Wales (NSW), Australia.
The figures come from a parliamentary question asked by Greens MP David Shoebridge.
14,102 searches were conducted in Australia’s most populous state, which includes Sydney, after a dog sat next to a person, indicating they might be carrying drugs. But, in 11,248 cases, no drugs were found.
Only 2,854 searches – 20 per cent – in the first nine months of this year, resulted in drugs being found, the figures show.
Sniffer dogs are regularly deployed at music events and other large scale events like Mardi Gras as well as in certain locations.
”Now that we know the error rate is so high, the program needs to be halted. Because of where they operate, police sniffer dogs tend to target young people and Aborigines. If this was happening in the car parks of merchant banks, there would be outrage.”
“No test which has an 80 per cent error rate could be considered a reasonable basis on which to conduct an intrusive public search of a citizen going about their daily business,” he said.
“Every one of them was then subject to a humiliating public search, some were taken aside for a full strip search, only to be found to be carrying no drugs at all.”
The secretary for the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, argued that the use of sniffer dogs infringed people’s freedoms and could only be justified if it resulted in a high rate of detections.
Don Weatherburn, the director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, said that the high number of searches relative to detections is not an indication of failure.
”The question is how many people would carry drugs if not for sniffer dogs,” Dr. Weatherburn said.
But Dr. Matthew Dunn from Deakin University, who authored a 2009 study on ecstasy users and drug detection dogs, says that the majority of people he surveyed were undeterred.
He says, if anything, the dogs encouraged drug users to find ways around being caught.
“What we found was that the majority had come into contact with a drug detection dog in the six months preceding the interview, but they don’t really see them as a deterrent,” he said.
“If they knew dogs would be in an event that they were attending they would conceal their drugs better, avoid the dogs, take their drugs before they went to the event or change some pattern about what they did.”
“If the purpose is to get drug dealers and traffickers, the dogs are not serving their purpose,” Dr Dunn said.
“If the purpose is to be a visual deterrent, I think just having police out is enough of a deterrent. I don’t think they need to have the dogs there as well.”
Picture by Annie Mole