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Australia With focus on music festival strip-searches, let's not forget this important issue

21:30  27 october  2019
21:30  27 october  2019 Source:   smh.com.au

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But an important issue is being lost in the current debate – race. With significant and needed attention being directed towards the strip - searching of people at music festivals , it is important we don’t lose sight of the issue that some people are more policed than others.

With focus on music festival strip - searches , let ' s not forget this important issue . With the festival season approaching, an inquiry into the strip search of a 16-year-old has focused attention on NSW police practices.

a group of people standing next to a dog: A police sniffer dog checks revellers at this year's Splendour in the Grass festival.© Paul Harris A police sniffer dog checks revellers at this year's Splendour in the Grass festival.

Ongoing public scrutiny is shedding much needed light on the highly invasive policing practice of strip-searching. But an important issue is being lost in the current debate – race.

Police are required to record information about searches on a database called COPS. Yet, under oath at recent Law Enforcement Conduct Commission hearings police admitted they are not recording legally required details like the justification for the search. And in circumstances where nothing is found, police may not be making a record at all.

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NSW Police personal search/ strip search targets revealed: Former DPP Nicholas Cowdery, QC, who is now the president of the NSW Council of Civil Race is an issue being lost in the current debate around #stripsearches. It’ s important we don’t lose sight of the fact that some people are more

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This lack of accurate data means many things, but it could also mean reported strip-search figures (5,362 strip searched during the 2018-19 financial year) are only the tip of the iceberg. The under reporting of strip-searches is an issue raised by Redfern Legal Centre, especially when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other racial minorities.

Figures obtained by the centre under access to information laws reveal that out of a total of 9,891 recorded strip-searches over a two-year period (2016-2017 to 2017-2018), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accounted for 10 per cent of those searched. Yet Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represent less than 3 per cent of the total NSW population.

Officer who strip searched 19 revellers admits no legal justification

  Officer who strip searched 19 revellers admits no legal justification Out of those searches only one item was found: a single antidepressant tablet.The revelation that more than 90 per cent of strip-searches at the 2018 festival turned up nothing prompted Michael Adams, QC, chief commissioner of NSW's police watchdog, to suggest that officers' justification for the "invasive" procedures were little more than "a gut feeling".

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There were also 82 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children strip-searched (10 to 17 years) over a four-year financial period during 2015-2016 to 2018-2019, including children aged 10, 11 and 12 years. Evidence provided at the LECC could mean this figure is much higher.

Due to limited data, it is difficult obtaining accurate figures regarding the strip-searching of other racial minorities. When a police officer stops and searches a person they should record the person’s “racial appearance”, which requires an officer to make their own assessment as to what a person’s racial identity may be.

Under access to information laws, the centre sought a four-year break-down of strip-search by "racial appearance" categories (from 2015-2016 to 2018-2019). The figures reveal some of the following totals: Caucasian (64 per cent) followed by Aboriginal (8.8  per cent), Middle Eastern (8.7 per cent), East Asian (5.3 per cent), Mediterranean (3.5 per cent), Pacific Islander (2.4 per cent) and Black African (0.5 per cent).

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Since the above data is not "known place of birth" or "mother of father’s place of origin", it is difficult to compare such figures with Census data and determine whether racial minorities are being disproportionately impacted.

But what we do know from the LECC hearings is strip search data needs to be scrutinised and may be an underestimation of the actual number of searches. With significant and needed attention being directed towards the strip-searching of people at music festivals, it is important we don’t lose sight of the issue that some people are more policed than others. The figures show Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been disproportionately subjected to invasive, harmful and possibly unlawful searches. And now thanks to the LECC we can assume that this disproportion may be much greater than we think.

Samantha Lee is a lawyer and the head of police accountability at the Redfern Legal Centre.

NSW Police strip searched over 120 underage girls in the past three years, data reveals .
There are renewed calls for laws to prohibit child strip searches in NSW, after data obtained under freedom of information laws reveals 122 underage girls, including two 12-year-olds, were subjected to the practice in the past three years.The numbers, obtained by the Redfern Legal Centre (RLC), showed two of the 122 children strip searched were just 12 years old and eight were 13 years old.

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