Hounded By Police

Published in the Central Sydney Magazine, 5 October 2016

By Heather McNab

Revealed: Drug dogs sniff out troubling trend for Redfern

RESIDENTS in Redfern are more likely to be targeted by drug sniffer dogs than neighbouring suburbs after revelations the area is among the highest for searches that come up empty-handed.

Figures released under a Greens’ Freedom of Information request show that in the last two years, police performed 1313 searches in the area – far more than the Newtown, Surry Hills or Kings Cross police commands.

And the Redfern searches have just a 20 per cent success rate. It has provoked concerned that the area may be being profiled due to its racial and socio-economic demographics. The figures, released under a request by Greens MP David Shoebridge, show the Redfern local area command – which covers suburbs including Waterloo, Erskineville, Zetland, Chippendale, Darlington and Alexandria – returned less than 20 per cent successful drug detections from dog searches in the past two years.

Searches in the area commands of Newtown, Surry Hills and Kings Cross all returned between 31 and 38 per cent successful detections.

The figures provoked concern, from politicians and community groups, that the area may be being profiled.

Jenny Leong, Greens MP for Newtown, called the searches “intrusive and humiliating” and said it was “troubling the Redfern community is subject to a disproportionately high number of searches ... with a low rate of drugs being found”.

“Redfern is an area with a long, strong and proud connection with Sydney’s Aboriginal community, who have consistently faced the brunt of over-policing,” Ms Leong said.

The area is currently the highest in NSW for detection of heroin and third in the state for ice, and officers from Redfern have been working to address the issue in collaboration with community and government.

A NSW Police spokeswoman said while the “search figures routinely fluctuate each year, we will continue our efforts to target illegal drugs and the devastating impact they have on our community”.

NSW Police refused to answer whether the community was being targeted or profiled, or why the practice continued in such high levels in the LAC given the low return of positive drug detections.

Ms Leong said the “intrusive and humiliating” searches were part of a program of intimidation. She said she was concerned those “already marginalised or at risk in our community will become fearful of police and will hesitate to go to them when they really need them”.

Michael Shreenan, the director of the Factory Community Centre in Waterloo, said social housing communities were often unfairly targeted “when in fact affluent areas have just as much a struggle with drug consumption than any other neighbourhoods”.

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