Indigenous People in Regional Communities Targeted by Strip Searches

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NSW Police officerData has revealed that Indigenous people in NSW regional communities are excessively targeted with invasive police strip searches.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in New South Wales are disproportionately targeted for police strip searches.

Redfern Legal Centre revealed that 13 per cent of strip searches are undertaken on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, even though Indigenous people only make up 3 per cent of the State’s population.

Redfern Legal Centre’s Police Accountability Practice Solicitor Samantha Lee told NITV that Indigenous Australians have been subject to an extremely high rate of strip searches for far too long.

“Police have failed and continue to fail when a strip search occurs. Police are targeting vulnerable people, and it is very unjust,” Ms Lee stated.

Regional towns excessively targeted for strip searches

Between 2018 and 2020, the highest rates of strip searches were in Dubbo, Taree, Moree and Orange in that order. However, figures could be much higher due to underreporting by police.

Other areas of high numbers were Aldavilla, Bathurst, Burke and Wellington.

Surry Hills, in Sydney’s inner-city also recorded a high number of searches.

One Taree resident told NITV that he believes he has been strip-searched more than 35 times.

“Indigenous people here have no trust or confidence in the coppers at all. There’s no communication. The only time we see them up here talking to us is to question someone,” Wayne Stewart-Paulson told NITV.

“I have been strip searched twice in one night, both searches found nothing, I was just targeted by them because I was Aboriginal, and it just makes me heaps more resentful towards the police,” he said.

Community member and cultural officer Leonie Morcombe told NITV that she would be “hard-pressed” to find a local Indigenous person in the Taree area who has not been the victim of police harassment.

“They’re meant to be here to protect and serve, but what they actually do is target and search,” said Ms Morcombe.

Vulnerable people at risk of invasive strip searches

The data also shows that Indigenous children are increasingly being targeted by police for strip-searches.

In 2019-20, 20 per cent of all children strip-searched were Indigenous, up from 13 per cent in the previous year.

A spokesperson for NSW Police told NITV that officers comply with legislation and additional safeguards in place to protect children and vulnerable people.

“Police officers do not enjoy carrying out strip searches, but it is a necessary power that has been entrusted to us with good reason,” they stated.

In our experience, this isn’t quite right.

The NSW Police can often get it wrong when deciding whether a strip-search is lawful.

What Are NSW Police’s Power to Strip Search?

The NSW Police may conduct strip searches, but most do so following strict legal guidelines. These guidelines state the strip searches

  • Police can only perform a strip search in specific circumstances, including where the urgency and seriousness of the situation make such a search necessary.
  • They must conduct the search in a way that preserves the privacy and dignity of the individual during the search.
  • If performed on an individual under the age of 18 the police must conduct it in the presence of a parent, guardian or non-police invigilator.
  • Police cannot strip search a person under the age of 10.
  • Must not involve a search of a person’s body cavities or examination of the body by touch.
  • Only officers of the same gender as the searched person may observe that individual

If a strip search does not adhere to these guidelines, it may be unlawful.

If you believe you have been strip-searched unlawfully, or are in danger of being strip-searched, speak to one of our civil lawyers who can advise you on your legal options, such as suing the police. Call us on (02) 9261 4281 to book a free initial consultation.

At O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors, we specialise in civil litigation for police misconduct, including for unlawful strip searches. The firm has substantial litigation experience against the NSW Police for unlawful abuses of police powers.

Sarah Gore

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O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors specialise in multiple areas of criminal and civil law. 

We can assist you by representing you in your criminal matter, fighting for financial compensation if you have been unlawfully arrested, assaulted by police, defamed  or treated unfairly in other ways. We are also able to assist you in preparation for or in attending Royal Commissions, at ICAC and other commissions. 

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