NSW Police will deny fans entry to a Sydney gig this weekend on suspicion of recently handling drugs, even if they don’t have drugs on them.
In a Facebook post last night, NSW Police warned drug detection dogs will patrol Sydney’s Olympic Park for the Above & Beyond show this weekend.
It said the dogs can “detect the presence of prohibited drugs or someone who has recently had drugs on them” and police will exclude entry “if a dog makes an indication”.
“Police will exclude any person from the venue that the drug dog indicates has or who has recently had drugs on them, regardless of whether drugs are located,” the post said.
Studies show that sniffer dogs sitting down next to a person is not a good indicator that person has drugs. Over a decade of NSW Police data shows the dogs have gotten it wrong (made a false positive) between two-thirds and three-quarters of the time.
It’s understood to be only the third time NSW Police have used this strategy, after State of Trance in April and Midnight Mafia in May.
Anton Voss was one of the ticket-holders denied entry to Midnight Mafia.
“I saw a dog sniff at my bag … they hauled me off, took me into the strip search hut and grabbed my nuts,” he said.
“They looked through my stuff. Then they found nothing.”
“It makes you feel victimised and awful. It sucks.”
Is this legal?
Prominent Sydney criminal lawyer Greg Goold said there was it was not clear what power police were using to deny entry, and it could be a breach of civil liberties.
“There’s nothing in the Act which would provide a power for the police department to refuse a person access to a concert because they’ve raised suspicion of drug detection,” he said.
“That [dog indication] could have been caused by someone having a joint in their vicinity and the smell catching in their clothing.”
Police have the power to search someone when they have a reasonable suspicion they have drugs on them or have committed a criminal offence. A dog indication can create a reasonable suspicion of having drugs.
“But once that search has been carried and nothing has been found … the person should be free to go,” Mr Goold said.
Greens MP David Shoebridge also said the strategy could be illegal.
“This is an extraoridnary case of police over-reach,” he said.
“They’re effectively saying they’re going to make it a crime to be a young person in a public place in NSW.
“It’s a gross affront to civil liberties.”
Above & Beyond is performing in Victoria on Friday. Victoria Police would not rule out using the same drug dog strategy as NSW Police.
“If someone is stopped by police and searched as a result of an indication by a PAD dog, but then found not to be possessing illicit drugs, they may still be denied entry,” they told Hack in a statement.
“This will be at the discretion of event organisers in consultation with police.”
Organiers promise full refund to fans who are turned away
Above & Beyond promoter Richie McNeill, CEO of Hardware Corp, told Hack he had agreed to NSW Police’s request to deploy the new strategy at the event.
He said the venue organiser has the right to refuse punter’s entry, and he understood this right had been passed to NSW Police.
“Ultimately the venue is the one that makes the decision but yes we gave them permision to do it [turn people away],” he said.
He said he believed he could tell which punters were carrying drugs, just by watching them entering the venue.
“You can feel the ones that looked guilty,” he said.
McNeill also organised State of Trance in April. He said about 40 people were turned away because of drug dog detections, out of a total attendance of 1400.
“We had two that looked legitimately stressed like they had nothing on them,” he said.
“But the others … we knew what was going on and they knew what was going on.”
Criminal lawyer Greg Goold questioned whether the ticket-holders turned away could take the organiser to court, given they hadn’t done anything illegal that would have broken the contract.
McNeill said he didn’t know the statistics for drug dog false positives. When he was told how often they got it wrong, he said “that’s pretty alarming”.
He said he had freely agreed to the police plan, although without police support the event wouldn’t have happened.
He confirmed the organisers would fully refund the tickets of any fans who are turned away because of drug dog detection.
Tickets to Above & Beyond cost upwards of $128.
After the police announcement, punters have been expressing their outrage.
Here’s what some of them have told us:
“How is this fair? Something needs to be done… Sydney is becoming a joke of the nightlife world.”
“It is a blatant infringement of an innocent person’s rights.”
“This shift is making me legitimatly scared because we as a community that are lawful and abiding are being published and seeing the erosion of our rights and being tarred guilty even whilst being proven innocent.”
“This is just another example of the injustice when it comes to the war on drugs.”
“I believe it is grossly unfair, contemptuous and hypocritical, as no such policy has been applied to other ‘nicer’ festivals such as Splendour or Groovin the Moo. It smacks of favouritism and bias.”