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Police Strip Searches

It’s becoming a common scenario. You’ve been found with some MDMA capsules. A plain-clothes police officer has stopped you. Police have taken you to a cordoned off area and they’re telling you that you need to submit to a strip search.

While the police do have the power to strip search its use is becoming concerning.

Further, in October 2018 the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) has taken notice of the rising trend to conduct strip searches in lieu of regular searches and has undertaken an investigation into the police practice.

When can police conduct strip searches?

The Law Enforcement Powers and Responsibilities Act 2002 (LEPRA) give police officers their powers to conduct their job. LEPRA contains broad powers to search and strip search people.

Section 31 is where the power to strip search is found. The section is broken down into two parts. Firstly, where a strip search is carried out at a police station or other place of detention, and then secondly, where the strip search is carried out at any other place.

The substantive difference is that when a strip search is being conducted somewhere public, like a train station or festival, it must be because the police officer suspects that the strip search is reasonably necessary because of the seriousness and urgency of the circumstances.

All strip searches must be conducted in accordance with s.32 of LEPRA, which relates to the preservation of privacy and dignity during the search. Among other things, this section says insofar as it is possible, that police must:

  • Inform you if they’re going to ask you to remove clothing
  • Inform you why it is necessary to remove the clothing
  • Ask for your cooperation
  • Conduct the search in a way that provides reasonable privacy
  • Be as quick as reasonably practicable
  • Conduct the search in the least invasive way possible
  • Only search people of the same sex

Why are police strip searching at festivals?

The justification for conducting strip searches in festival environments is often that police officers can’t be sure that the two capsules they found in your pocket are all you’re in possession of. Strip searches provide a way for police to ensure there is not a larger quantity of a prohibited drug elsewhere on or in your person.

Police are trained to conduct thorough searches. Search techniques are taught at the NSW Police Academy and annual refresher training is also provided. Police move people to a secure or cordoned off area so that they can conduct a thorough search. Once in this separate area it would appear that the situation is neither serious or urgent. This begs the question – why is everyone being strip searched?

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