FYI: Inquiry Finds That The NSW Police Conducted 'Unlawful' Strip-Searches At Festivals On Underage Teens
In case you missed it among all the COVID-19 news on Friday, last week the NSW Police watchdog deemed the strip search of a 16-year-old girl at Splendour in the Grass in 2018 “unlawful,” along with three other cases of strip-searches at music festivals. Here's what happened and what it potentially means for the future of festivals; which is already shaping up to be super different post-pandemic.
So what exactly happened at Splendour?
In the case of the 16-year-old girl, she was reportedly told to undress and squat after a sniffer dog sat next to her, indicating that she may have drugs somewhere on her. She told an inquiry when she first realised what was about to happen that she “could not stop crying,” and said she was “completely humiliated”.
And what about the other three cases?
The other three incidents of unlawful strip-searches involved three teen boys between the ages of 15 and 17 and took place at the Lost City Music festival in Sydney's Homebush back in February 2019.
The inquiry heard that one of the boys was strip-searched and told by an officer to: “Hold your dick and lift your balls up and show me your gooch”. Another was strip-searched by an officer who “made contact with his testicles” without wearing gloves.
So, what was decided?
In all four cases, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) found that the strip-searches were unlawful because the officers hadn’t tried to contact a parent, guardian or support person before conducting these searches, despite the teens being underage.
It also found that police operated without the appropriate training. Of the 11 cops who gave evidence, only one had ever strip-searched a child before these incidents took place.
Interestingly, the LECC decided not to name any of the officers involved.
Why is the LECC ruling on strip-searches so important?
The NSW Police has been long been criticised for officers' heavy-handed approach to young partiers. Sniffer dogs, hefty penalties and, of course, strip searches are commonplace in nightlife venues and at festivals. Combine an often intimidating police presence with years of lockout laws in Sydney, and that makes for a pretty major deterioration of the nightlife in Australia's biggest city; plus a lack of trust between its young people and the cops. These incidents don't help, but its important that they've been acknowledged.
After the watchdog delivered its findings, the NSW Police said it in a statement: “The NSW Police Force is committed to continuous improvement and has developed initiatives to standardize operational orders and enhance compliance”.
The LECC is planning to deliver a final report on strip-searching later this year.
What does it mean for festival-goers?
While the LECC's final report could carry more weight than the findings from these four cases, already the spotlight is firmly on the NSW Police, which will hopefully prompt them to change their ways.
So, this Splendour in the Grass, which is apparently still going ahead despite coronavirus, (but has been pushed to October) we could see a less intense and intimidating police presence; but no actionable changes have been announced yet. We'll update you here when we know more.
Main Image Credit: Licensed by Getty
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