Friday, September 15, 2006

Sold a Pup Freya Days Rant

Crying Baby
Originally uploaded by Sydney Weasel.
It appears that the use of police sniffer dogs to screen people for drugs might be little more than an expensive public relations exercise. A NSW Ombudsman’s review has found the use of the dogs to be so ineffective it questions whether the program should be continued. It has also raised concerns that searches of people carried out on the basis of a positive indication of a sniffer dog could be illegal, given the low success rate of the dogs. The use of the sniffer dogs could be more about police and politicians wanting to be seen to be doing something about drugs, rather than actually tackling the problem.


Weasel said...

The report, tabled in NSW Parliament yesterday, found:

• No drugs were found in almost three-quarters of searches carried out of people after a sniffer dog had indicated they were carrying drugs. This is despite police claims that the accuracy rate for sniffer dogs is 70 per cent.

• Only 19 people were found to be carrying enough drugs to be successfully prosecuted for dealing out of more than 10,000 screened by sniffer dogs over a two year period. Most of those 19 were carrying relatively small amounts to give to friends and were not commercially dealing.

• Cannabis accounted for 84 per cent of all drug detections. In almost two thirds of these cases police issued a warning rather than laid charges. No-one was found carrying enough cannabis if justify a prosecution for dealing.

• Dogs frequently indicated someone was carrying cannabis after simply smelling cannabis smoke on their clothing.

Ombudsman Bruce Barbour said a lawful police search had to be based on “reasonable suspicion” that a person was currently in possession of a prohibited drug. But given the low success rate of sniffer dogs, an indication from one that a person could be carrying drugs was not sufficient to constitute reasonable suspicion. This view had been supported by a legal opinion from a senior barrister.

“…more than 99% of persons indicated by drug detection dogs either had no drugs, or did not possess the drugs for the purpose of supply,” the report said.

“Despite the best efforts of police officers, the use of drug detection dogs has proven to be an ineffective tool for detecting drug dealers. Overwhelmingly, the use of drug detection dogs has led to public searches of individuals in which no drugs were found, or to the detection of (mostly young) adults in possession of very small amounts of cannabis for personal use.

“These findings have led us to question whether the Drug Dogs Act will ever provide a fair, efficacious and cost effective tool to target drug supply. Given this, we have recommended that the starting point, when considering this report, is to review whether the Drug Dogs Act should be retained at all.”

Commenting after the report’s release, acting NSW Police Minister David Campbell said the dogs were a valuable tool and police would continue using them.

get it that this 'personal use' bizzo is legal opinion. I think there needs to be an administrative penalty for low level drug use. I don't think the argument was made that high level users were not being found.

For innocent people, this is an impost. However, I'd gladly suffer the impost to neuter dealers.

Weasel said...

Just how low relations have sunk between Victoria Police command and its rank and file have been brought home dramatically by the leaking to the media of a secret tape made of Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon explaining to members of an elite crime squad why it was being disbanded. After the leaking of the tape, Nixon admitted she had sought legal advice over whether action could be taken against those behind the recording. And the contents of the tape showed one of her primary concerns in disbanding the Armed Offenders Squad was to protect the reputation of the force after assault complaints against members.

Nixon also reveals on the tape that command had been working since October to address concerns about the culture within the squad by rotating personnel and changing procedures for provide “protection from allegations, protection from complaints, matters about assaults etc”.

“But in effect you have a higher complaint rate than any other part of this (crime) department, both per head and also in total,” she tells the squad.

“It’s (disbanding the squad) not done lightly, it’s not done without recognition that the work that you do is incredibly important to Victoria Police and has been. But…there comes a point where the risk to our reputation as an organisation and you as well, is too great to continue with.” You can read a full transcript of the secret tape recording here.

Nixon disbanded the Armed Offenders Squad a week ago, ahead of planned public hearings by Victoria’s police anti-corruption watchdog next week into assault allegations. More than half a dozen squad members are expected to be questioned during the Office of Police Integrity hearings.

The hearings have the potential to badly damage the force’s reputation and further strain relations between the rank and file police and the OPI.

When the OPI first announced its investigation into the Armed Offenders Squad and raided its offices in July, Nixon said she would wait until its was finished before deciding the squad’s future. The pre-emptive move to disband it before the outcome of the investigation is being seen within the force as denying the squad’s members natural justice.

Add to these tensions is yesterday’s threat of industrial action by the Victorian Police Association over its new enterprise bargaining agreement. And all this just two months before a state election in Victoria.

I suspect the motives of the more outraged members of the force. I'm not saying Ms Nixon isn't being hamfisted, but my initial response to police concerns here is "diddums."

I get it that the squad's work is specialised. I get it that the squad's work carries an unusually high risk of physical altercation with scum. However, the prejudicial nature of the squads comments regarding their fate and Ms Nixon renders the situation a muddied water and an administrative nightmare.

Perhaps the OPI aren't competent, but then perhaps the squad is corrupt.

Weasel said...

How bad should a crime be to justify locking up someone for the rest of their natural life? Katherine Mary Knight killed her de facto husband, John Price, on 29 February 2000. She stabbed him 37 times and then used skills learnt from working in an abattoir to expertly skin him. Hanging her de facto’s “pelt” on a meat hook, Knight then cut off his head and cooked it in a stewing pot with vegetables. She also sliced off pieces of his buttocks and baked them in the oven with other vegetables. These were then served up on plates and left as meals for the dead man’s son and daughter.
For her crime, Knight was sentenced to jail for the rest of natural life in November 2001. But now a leading NSW judge has said he does not believe her crime was of “such heinousness as to justify a sentence of imprisonment that could only end with her death”.

Justice Michael Adams said he would have sentenced Knight, 51, to a non-parole sentence of 33 years with a maximum of 45 years and allowed the parole board to eventually decide whether it was safe to let her back into the community.

“This would have had the effect of enabling the applicant to be considered for release on parole when she was 77 years of age,” Justice Adams said in an appeal decision that saw an attempt by Knight to have her sentenced reduced rejected by the NSW Appeal Court.

Justice Adams conceded in his judgment that “there are crimes so heinous that imprisonment for life is the only just sentence and thus, for these crimes, no question of parole arises”.

He also said that skinning and beheading her de facto’s corpse showed Knight’s “brutality and, perhaps of greater significance, her lack of what we might recognize as humane feelings, which were, I think, completely buried in unreasoning and irrational hatred for her victim”. But he said he was not convinced about psychiatric assessments of Knight that predicted she would pose a threat to the community if released in the future.

Sentencing someone to prison for the rest of their life “can only be justified for an offence that falls into the worst class of case”, Justice Adams said. “Furthermore, the circumstances must be such that the only way by which the relevant community interest can be met is by imposing a life sentence.”

He found the original judge had been right in finding that Knight was so dangerous she could never be released, but agreed with the two other Appeal Court judges that the appeal should be dismissed. He said the fact he disagreed with the sentence did not make it wrong.

I think the prosecution of the murder fell into her work skills. I think she committed murder and has little remorse. I think the 25+ year sentence appropriate. I don't think the never to be released sentence appropriate.

I'm not one of the children served up their father. I'm sure they'd have a different opinion to me. My idea of never to be released crime involves the less personal types. The Cobby or Baldwin killers who targetted the public for no other reason than being pretty. The terrorists who trained with Al Qaeda, JI, Taliban or Abu Sayyef.

Anonymous said...

James Allan is Garrick professor of law at the University of Queensland. How marvellously refreshing to hear such a man say what so needed saying: that calls for an independent commission to pick politically neutral judges would give us the very opposite.

Allan first notes what has seemed to be distressingly obvious, especially in Victoria:

It ...rests on the patently false assumption that what the judges themselves are doing is not itself in any way political.
True. And it’s weird to see certain judges and their activist allies preen themselves as politically independent when they’ve acted more politically than any in many decades.

Allan continues:

People who push for this sort of judicial appointments commissions figure they will get more of the sort of judges of whom they approve.
True again. Such independent commissions into anything tend to weaken the ability of the public to have a say, and to increase the role of a political class that is unelected and often unrepresentative. In this case, you can be sure such a commission would not pick judges whose thinking would be most pleasing to the public it is his or her duty to serve.

Here’s the test: Look at the people demanding independent commissions to pick judges. Do you really want the kind of judge that would please them?

Weasel said...

have read in the gossip site Crikey that this letter I wrote to The Age caused a ruckus between the editor, Andrew Jaspan, and the editors of his opinion and letters pages, Ray Cassin and David Bernstein respectively.

It is said that Jaspan overruled Cassin and Berstein and ordered they run my letter, in which I informed Age readers that an article by Manne that damned me as worse than Holocaust denier David Irving contained a misquotation and several serious errors and misrepresentations of my position on the “stolen generations”. I also explained what the real issue of dispute between us was.

Cassin and Bernstein reportedly did not think their readers needed to hear this unpleasant stuff, arguing I had other pulpits elsewhere to put my view - one they clearly find distasteful, to judge from the politics they push on their pages. The day after my letter appeared, Bernstein ran another suggesting just this - that my toxic views should not appear in The Age.

Jaspan, on the other hand, clearly believed that Age readers deserved to hear both sides of this dispute. And, perhaps, that misrepresentations needed to be corrected if Age readers were to be well informed.

In that dispute, which seems to have been quickly leaked by some unknown Age person to Crikey, lies the heart of the cultural battle for the soul of The Age (and for the ABC, likewise).

Does this once great paper report all sides of important social debates, or push only the one preferred by the ideologues who largely staff its gatekeeping positions? Are its readers to be treated as people who need information or a sermon?

I think the answer should be clear to good journalists, and I’m sorry to think that Jaspan has his work cut out getting Age staff to agree.

The new managing director of the ABC will face this very same challenge, I’m afraid.