14 February 2020
NSW Commission Finds Police Abusing Powers
The Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited (‘ALS’) has welcomed the release of a new report by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) which shines a light on the excessive use of strip-searches in NSW, but believes urgent legislative reform and cultural change is necessary to safeguard Aboriginal people who are too often the target of these invasive practices.
Released yesterday, The Review of NSW Police Force Standard Operating Procedures for strip searches in custody, found that police procedures were ‘incoherent, out of date or incorrect, did not contain references to important legislative requirements and lacked clear guidance about exercising the powers appropriately’. The report also noted that ‘the incidence of unlawful or inappropriate use of strip searches, particularly on young people, has become increasingly apparent’.
ALS’ Principal Legal Officer Nadine Miles said, “We welcome the Commission’s investigations into this deeply intrusive, humiliating and disempowering practice.
“The excessive use of strip-searching is causing significant emotional and psychological harm in Aboriginal communities.
“We’re calling on the NSW Government to support critical legislative reform and increase police accountability and transparency in order to address systemic issues with strip-searches and other policing practice.
"The new Report outlines deeply intrusive policing, including the filming of strip searches on CCTV, the use of force and requiring people to remove clothing all at once, and to bend over, ‘cough and squat’. The existing police powers legislation (LEPRA) is too broad and requires urgent reform.
“The ALS often represents young people who are forcibly strip searched by the police. Young people who are often also victims of crimes, who have backgrounds of trauma, cognitive and other disabilities.
“Just last week we represented a 14-year-old boy with autism whose pants were forcibly removed with police retrieving his $2 coin he wanted to keep so he could buy something in custody. We are also currently representing a young girl who was forcibly strip searched with a number of male police officers present.
“These are not isolated incidents. This is every week” said Ms Miles.
The Report’s release comes amidst broader scrutiny of police practices in NSW, including revelations that police have 'quotas’ for the number of invasive searches conducted each year and discriminatory targeting of Aboriginal children under the State’s Suspect Target Management Plan.
ALS Media Contact: 0411 254 390