Cops blasted for ‘humiliating’ act to women
The police watchdog is urging authorities to apologise for "humiliating" and "traumatic" strip searches where women were asked to remove tampons or "squat and cough".
The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission released a report on Tuesday that explored complaints made by several women who were strip-searched at music festivals between 2018 and 2019. Another two were searched outside a casino.
In March last year, NSW Police established Strike Force Blackford to investigate the complaints made to officers.
The strikeforce looked into reports made by women who were strip-searched at Hidden Music Festival, Secret Garden Music Festival, and outside The Star Casino where a woman was asked to remove her tampon by an officer on duty.
"The investigation revealed a lack of clarity for frontline officers regarding the lawfulness of such a request," the watchdog report states.
Another incident involved a woman who was made to cough and squat during Hidden Music Festival at Olympic Park in March last year.
The young woman's mother, who made the complaint, said her daughter was not offered proper privacy and was detained for more than hour before being evicted and told she could not attend another festival for six months, despite the fact she was not in possession of any illicit drugs.
Another woman, who was working at Secret Garden Festival as a performer, was asked to pull her pants down and bend over.
Her parents wrote a letter to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian describing their daughter's treatment as "degrading".
It was also alleged that immediately after the search, male police officers spoke to their daughter unprofessionally and laughed at her. No illicit drugs were found during the search.
The report also refers to incidents which occurred at Midnight Mafia Festival last year where patrons described searches as "humiliating" and "traumatic". One of the women did not make a formal complaint but spoke to the media at the time.
In 2018 an 18-year-old woman who attended Midnight Mafia Festival was subject to a number of searches where no illicit drugs were found but she was marched from the venue and had her ticket cancelled.
Her solicitor wrote to the commission and NSW Police to complain about her treatment, arguing she had been "unlawfully strip-searched" because she was not offered proper privacy and was questioned while undressed.
According to the commission's report, investigations highlighted "the number of significant recurring issues for the NSWPF in relation to strip searches".
These include the lawfulness of searches, the adequacy of the record keeping of strip searches, officers stating they felt under pressure to conduct strip searches at festivals, the sufficiency of passing information from one officer to the searching officer before the search and officer involvement in issuing banning notices for venues after a search where no offence has been detected.
The findings have prompted the watchdog to inform changes to police policy including training.
"Many practices have been substantially improved based on these particular investigations, a wider body of complaints that have been considered, the reports of the LECC and general policy considerations," the report claims.
The watchdog says NSW Police "do not intend" to reverse their instructions in the Person Search Manual, which states officers "may, amongst other things, request a person squat, lift their breasts, part their buttock cheeks or turn their body".
An updated version of the manual is being prepared.
A report outlining the "systemic and organisational issues" that emerged during Strike Force Blackford is being prepared by police and should be handed over to the commission next month.
Originally published as Cops blasted for 'humiliating' act to women