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Inquiry finds NSW Police who strip searched teens did not understand the law

11 May 2020 | 1:05 pm | Emma Jones

New information has emerged regarding a series of strip searches conducted by NSW Police on teenagers. According to triple J, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission [LECC] handed down five reports on Friday, 8th May to NSW State Parliament detailing new findings in regards to "ongoing investigation into NSW police strip search powers."

As triple J pointed out, in all cases of teenagers being strip searched, no drugs were found. These were conducted in the period between 2015-2019 and four out of the five were at music festivals.

The LECC has since found all five searches to be unlawful, and have outlined the cause of this to be a lack of understanding of the law from officers, and lack of proper training as a result of this. "Police had made no attempt to contact parents or guardians to be present, and there was no reason to believe evidence would be destroyed in the time it took to find one," triple J wrote. It goes even further, with some cases being confirmed to have been conducted even when there was no reasonable grounds to do so.

In one particularly shocking case, a 16-year-old girl at the 2018 Splendour In The Grass was asked to progressively remove items of clothing until she last was asked to remove not just her underwear, but her panty liner as well. In the moments leading up to this, a drug dog sat at her feet and she was led away by three officers with her hands in the air. No officer at any time introduced themselves, announced their rank or station or administered a caution. She was not asked if she had a parent or guardian to be with her, even after she told the officers her age.

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The other case pertaining to being conducted at a music festival was in regards to three boys being strip searched while at the 2019 Lost City Music Festival. As triple J points out, "He was questioned without being cautioned, then told to pull down his shorts and underwear, and show officers his 'gooch'." A 13-year-old girl was also strip searched at the festival and was accompanied by a 17-year-old support person from Red Frogs. The strip searches of the three boys were all deemed to be unlawful.

The findings detailed that the officers "lacked sufficient experience or training," and "did not have proper knowledge about the legal requirements around strip searching children." However, no serious misconduct by the officers were found in the LECC's reports.

Recommendations were provided as part of the reports which included better record keeping, guidance from senior officers and "better education and briefing procedures about the legal requirements of strip searching, for police working at festivals where under-18s were present." It was also recommended that police should be taking "pro-active" steps in attempting to provide young people with independent legal advice at festivals.

In a statement provided to triple J's Hack after being approached for comment, a spokesperson for NSW Police said:

"The NSW Police Force awaits the final report of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission’s review into strip searches undertaken by police. We understand the importance of this review and will take a considered approach when the findings are delivered later this year.

As an organisation with extraordinary powers, we understand the need to closely monitor and regularly review the use of search powers to comply with the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (LEPRA).

Officers are instructed in how to conduct a search at the Police Academy and this training is reinforced in a number of forums in an officer’s career. Officers are guided in conducting strip searches principally by the NSW Police Force Person Search Manual, as well as the NSW Police Force Handbook and mandatory training programs.

The NSW Police Force is committed to continuous improvement and has developed initiatives to standardise operational orders and enhance compliance."

A final report on strip searching is expected later this year.

Read the original Hack story here.

Words by Emma Jones

Image: Getty Images via Triple J