NSW police have sparked outrage after revelations of frequent and unlawful strip searches being conducted on minors.
Recent inquiries by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission and the Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) have uncovered numerous breaches and abuses of this power committed on children. In the last three years, NSW police have conducted over 450 strip searches on minors, including a ten-year-old Indigenous child and ten girls aged 12-13.
Under current NSW law, there must be a support person present during the strip searching of a minor. Investigations into an underage music festival held last February found only five of the thirty children strip searched had an appropriate adult present.
In one instance, a 16-year-old said he was subject to inappropriate touching during the search, and was subsequently thrown out of the festival despite police finding nothing. The inquiry found that SES volunteers employed by police to support minors were not required to have Working With Children checks and were not previously informed that they would be supervising strip searches.
In the majority of instances, the reported reason police conducted a strip search was suspicion of drug possession. Allowing police such discretion poses an exceptional risk of harm to groups at risk of police brutality.
Data has shown NSW police are targeting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who account for over 10% of all field strip searches, despite making up just 3% of the population.
Lawyers from the RLC have recommended a tightening in laws including requiring a court order to be obtained before a child is subject to a field strip search. There is undoubtedly a need to improve current laws in NSW to address the health and safety of children, but this alone would be insufficient in addressing issues of police intimidation and force.
Democratic community control of the police force is needed to hold officers accountable for their actions and reallocate resources to where they’re most needed.
By Sheri Bryson