Father complains over sniffer dog search

A Nimbin man who was searched by sniffer dogs with his seven-year-old son in the car has filed a complaint with the Richmond Local Area Command.

The man was stopped on his way to Lismore on Saturday during Operation Grasstree, which ran from Thursday to Sunday last week. Phase one of the operation saw plainclothes policemen with sniffer dogs predominantly targeting the streets of Lismore, while phase two involved stopping and searching vehicles on the main access roads to Nimbin over the weekend. A total of 81 people were searched and 46 people were found with drugs.

The Nimbin father, who didnt want his name published to avoid identifying his son, said he felt violated and upset after drug dogs searched him and found nothing, and then moved round to the passenger side to sniff his seven-year-old son. He said he wasnt anti-police, but was concerned that Nimbin residents were being unfairly discriminated against.

The dog had a good whiff of me and my hands and fingers, so it was obvious that I hadnt been handling or using drugs, he said. That should have been the end of it. To go over and sniff my son thats too much. Something needs to be done to change these practices. Theres this assumption that its okay to put sniffer dogs on the children of Nimbin when they are innocent. I feel were becoming second-class citizens.

The man said there had been no reason for him to be stopped and he felt it was merely his appearance as a stereotypical alternative person driving an older model car that brought him under police scrutiny. He said a breath test revealed he was sober, and his license and registration were all in order.

I thought the whole idea of sniffer dogs was to target people displaying symptoms of intoxication. Its not like I was driving erratically.

Superintendent Lyons said the complaint would be referred to the NSW Ombudsman.

While he could understand the mans point of view he said police didnt always find drugs on the driver of the car.

And in the past police have unfortunately found drugs secreted in or near children, or even in prams where babies lie, he said.

He said the searches were carried out under legislation from 2002 which allowed police to take out a search warrant for a particular piece of road and stop and search any vehicle. However police did use discretion, he said.

In response to the claim that Nimbin was being unfairly targeted Superintendent Lyons said 95 per cent of the operations drug charges were made as a result of the Nimbin road blocks.

Thats s a fair number, he said. I have many people in Nimbin wanting to see the town cleaned up of drug dealing, and the use of harder drugs, and in our efforts to do that police will inevitably come across people who are in possession of cannabis. And police wont turn a blind eye to it. They will use their discretion and issue cannabis cautions where appropriate, which doesnt impact as severely on an individual.

Out of 46 drug detections, 21 people will appear in Lismore Local Court on July 17 charged with possession of prohibited drugs. A further 25 people were issued with cannabis cautions. Over the course of the operation police seized 12kgs of cannabis cake, two-thirds of a kilo of cannabis leaf, 4g of cannabis resin and two morphine tablets.

Meanwhile, 383 random breath tests were conducted and three people were charged with drink driving.

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