An upmarket wine and cheese festival, school formal, bowling club, pop music gig and multiple train station platforms have all been flagged as hotspots for the use and sale of illegal drugs in NSW.
Over the past six months, each of these locations has been the target of “intelligence-based” and taxpayer-funded drug dog operations, which cost an estimated minimum of $1100 per hour.
“Decisions on where to deploy detection dogs are intelligence-based and focus on locations where the use and supply of illicit drugs is known to have an increased prevalence,” a NSW Police spokeswoman told nine.com.au.
Greens MP David Shoebridge disagreed, saying he believes these operations are nothing more than a “PR exercise paid for by the taxpayers” so NSW Police “could be seen to be doing something on the war on drugs”.
“The Bulahdelah Bowling Club is far from the drug-trafficking hub of Australia,” he told nine.com.au.
“And I’m no expert on drug dealing, but I can guess that most major drug dealers don’t transport their drugs in the city using their Opal card.”
As per NSW Police standard operating procedures, each of these drug dog operations require a minimum of eight police to be present – drug dogs in NSW are used for “commercial purposes” at a cost-recovery rate of $152.20 and $23.70 an hour for officers and drug dogs, respectively.
“For operational reasons, it is the recommendation of the Dog Unit that whilst performing drug detection duties, each drug detection dog and hander be accompanied by a minimum of six police officers,” NSW Police standard operating procedures explain.
“This is the recommended MINIMUM [sic] and depending upon the area and size of the operation, it can be increased accordingly.
“For transport/railway, licencing and general warrant operations, a minimum of eight police offers be provided – for dance party operations 10 – 12 police officers should be provided.”
Figures provided to NSW parliament last year revealed a failure rate of almost 65 per cent in cases where people were strip searched following a drug dog indication.
Yet, operations remain frequent with Facebook page Sniff Off reporting at least 30 drug dog operations since the start of February.
Several of which targeted music festivals following five suspected fatal overdoses at events this summer, with a number other possible drug-related hospitalisations also recorded.
“The success rate is very low and that money could be better spent on medical education or peer-to-peer support,” said Mr Shoebridge.
“Instead of targeting the end-users at train stations, police could also spend these resources chasing actual drug dealers or looking at domestic violence cases.”
MDMA only records 15 – 25 fatal overdoses per year, while cannabis has never recorded a fatal overdose death in the world.
“Going after a small amount of cannabis or a couple of MDMA caps has nothing to about harm reduction. All it does is takes a tiny subset of young people found with the drug and gives them a conviction that will put their economic and social futures at risk.”
NSW Police would not comment on the cost or effectiveness of drug dog operations, but said it would continue to use the tactic across the state.
“Drug detection dogs are one of many effective resources NSW Police Force use to target the use and supply of deadly illicit drugs,” a spokeswoman said.
“NSW Police Force will continue its efforts to target illicit drugs and the devastating impact they have on our community.”
The NSW Government also refused to comment saying it was an “operational matter” that should be followed up with police.