NSW police officers are conducting strip searches illegally and at an increasing rate, a new report has found, prompting calls for legislative change.
There's been a huge rise in the use of community strip searches by police over the past decade, according to the University of NSW report released on Thursday.
The Rethinking Strip Searches by NSW Police report notes the "degrading and humiliating" searches aren't legally justified if a police officer merely suspects someone has drugs.
Yet that's the reason given for more than 90 per cent of the strip searches conducted in NSW in the year ending June 2019.
Officers can only conduct a strip search in the field if they suspect it's necessary and the seriousness and urgency of the circumstances make it necessary.
"The strip search means being stripped by total strangers, often forced to contort into unusual positions - to bend over to squat and cough - and so on, in circumstances and conditions which are almost inevitably going to be humiliating and intimidating," report co-author Dr Michael Grewcock said at the report launch on Thursday.
"If they were being conducted in any other circumstance, if you take sensitive police powers out of the question, it would be ... quite a serious assault."
In 64 per cent of strip searches nothing incriminating was found, the report states.
Only 30 per cent of searches resulted in criminal charges in 2017/18 and less than 17 per cent of those charges related to supplying drugs.
Newcastle teenager Lucy Moore was strip-searched without her consent at the Hidden music festival in March after a sniffer dog allegedly detected something.
The 19-year-old says the door to her cubicle remained open throughout the ordeal with male officers standing outside.
"It was very traumatic, it was humiliating," Ms Moore told reporters on Thursday.
"It's still hard now to see police and sniffer dogs."
Dr Grewcock says there are also major concerns about the use of strip searches in indigenous communities.
Ten per cent of people strip-searched by police in NSW over the past three years were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.
"We're getting stories of Aboriginal children being stripped outside of supermarkets and stripped at the school gates," Dr Grewcock said.
In one case, a 35-year-old Aboriginal father was strip-searched at a regional town's annual show.
As he lined up to buy tickets for rides with his children a drug detection dog sat down next to him.
Police then strip-searched him in the space between two side-show vans with no tarps or screens for privacy.
"Feeling embarrassed, ashamed and scared by the search" the man and his family immediately left the show.
The sniffer dog also sat down next to people who were not Aboriginal, the man said, but they were only asked to empty their pockets.
The report has called for a change in the law to make it clear when police can conduct a strip search.
Solicitor Samantha Lee from the Redfern Legal Centre - which commissioned the report - says a briefing was provided to the police minister last week.
"We're positive the police minister wants the best for his police force and he wants his police force to be well guided about the law," she said.
NSW Police on Thursday said "officers do not enjoy carrying out strip searches but ... searches reveal drugs and weapons".
"In 2018 alone, police detected a firearm and 93 knives or sharp cutting instruments, as well as illicit drugs on 1553 occasions during field strip searches," a spokeswoman said in a statement.
The police force also noted in recent years "the frequency and size of music festivals has increased".
Australian Associated Press
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