Sniffer dogs and harm reduction

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Sniffer dogs: their role in the reduction of drug-related harm? Results of an internet survey on peoples experiences with sniffer dogs in Victoria, Australia. Presented at Club Health June 2008, Ibiza, Spain Purple Hazelwood Stan Winford Jennifer Johnston Rebecca Jenkinson Damon Brogan Organisations involved Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre Fitzroy Legal Service VIVAIDS / Ravesafe

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Sniffer Dogs: Their role in the reduction of drug-related harm? : 

Sniffer Dogs: Their role in the reduction of drug-related harm? Results of an internet survey on peoples experiences with sniffer dogs in Victoria, Australia. Purple Hazelwood, Stan Winford, Dr. Jennifer Johnson, Rebecca Jenkinson, Damon Brogan.

Slide 2: 

RaveSafe is a Department of Human Services funded, harm reduction program, which operates through VIVAIDS, The Victorian Drug User Organisation in Australia. RaveSafe attend raves, outdoor festivals and dance parties, hosting a small chill-out space and provides peers with up to date, relevant and factual information about safer drug use, safer sex and hearing protection. RaveSafe

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Victoria Police PAD Dog (Passive Alert Detection) operations came out of a need to respond to the 11 overdoses at Two Tribes 2004. AIM of Operations: “Deter and detect trafficking, possession and use”. Victorian Police Measures of Success: Increased perception of safety, decrease in overdose and number of charges/diversions handed out. *All information from meeting with Victorian Police and VIVAIDS, 06/09/06.

The Process : 

The Process Police dog “Scans” air around person If dog smells drug, dog sits or indicates that it has found something Police then take over and dog continues “scanning” crowd Police officer gives ‘suspect’ a chance to hand over any illicit substances. Usually search not conducted if substance handed over Pat down search is conducted. If nothing found, asked about possible contact with illicit substance Personal Details are taken If drugs are located the suspect is then placed under arrest. Informed about Drug Diversion (Option to enter treatment rather than criminal system) . If they refuse they are put thought interview process and criminal charges laid.

Survey : 

Survey Online and hard copy survey of rave / festival attendees at raves over 5 months in 2007. In total, 253 surveys were completed, 213 online and 40 hard copies. Participants mean age was 24.8 years (range 7-56 years) 71.9% were male (consistent with population)

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The majority (67.0%) of respondents had seen PAD Dogs at either a nightclub or rave in Victoria in the twelve month period prior to the interview. The average number of sightings within a twelve month period was 2 times (range 1-20) The Majority 60% of respondents stated that the presence of PAD Dogs made them anxious or nervous. Only five (2.0%) respondents felt safer due to the presence of PAD Dogs and that police were 'doing a good job'.

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Actual Drug Use and Subsequent Detection The comments in this section illustrate the search process, the outcome of positive searches and the effect of the searches on people: “Made me depressed when I got caught. Started using more” “felt oppressed, drugs are consumed across the whole of society, yet police are picking the easy targets, and are not interested in harm minimisation, just prosecution” “at the time the dog sniffed me then sat there were approx 5 police around me.. very intimidating.” “The police were aggressive, had large numbers, and singled me out in a large crowd which caused humiliation.” “The police were actually friendly enough to deal with although it was scary at first. They did not strip search me, just got me to empty my pockets and searched through my things. I really wished I knew more of my rights at the time, maybe it was legal for me to refuse to empty my pockets etc... I felt quite violated though, as if a certain level of privacy was not respected.” “They were quite rude and refused to believe me when I said I didn't have any drugs, which I didn't.”

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Effectiveness of PAD Dog Policy This theme includes comments which illustrate respondents’ views on the effectiveness of the policy. “The amount of arrests made by use of sniffer dogs is minimal. The figures I saw after [Melbourne Event], which had 26,000 people in attendance, were that 18 had been caught and arrested due to sniffer dogs. These figures, along with my own personal observations, suggest the Police are only using the dogs, currently, as a show of force, and not as a realistic approach to stopping drug use and trafficking.” “Considering they cannot detect GHB (the most commonly overdosed drug amongst the club/rave scene) makes them a bit pointless in my opinion. –Of all the cases I’ve heard of people being pulled up by sniffer dogs, they have generally had ½ pills or 1 gram of marijuana or whatnot…...clearly a case of nabbing the end user, as opposed to the ‘big time drug dealer.’ –I’m all for drug buses testing people for drugs when driving, but I’m highly against sniffer dogs…..they defeat the purpose of harm minimisation.” “Sniffer dogs usually arrive too early and the drug carriers get notified.”

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Negative Effects as a Result of the Methods Taken to Avoid Detection This section highlights some of the negative effects users experienced in relation to PAD Dog operations. “acquiring substances at an event lead to an unknown quality in the substance and a riskier experience” “cost more to purchase, thus funding the dealers who take advantage of this situation by cranking up prices” “My friend took all her pills at once - 3 in total before the event so she could still part and not get caught with pills.... She nearly overdosed” “Overdose” “vomiting, nausea, paranoia” “I took all my drugs at once as soon as I saw the sniffer dogs and came very close to overdosing” “ended up buying drugs inside event from someone I did not know. Had bad reaction to drugs as a result.” “Experienced significant uncomfortable sensations, a (medically) mild overdose as a result of my consuming the festivals drugs immediately so as to avoid detection (trapped in line with no other way of disposing of substances without arousing suspicion). Very unpleasant experience, could have been a lot worse and I've seen numerous instances where this type of thing has occurred, often with more unnerving/potentially serious repercussions”

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Conclusion: This survey suggests that the use of PAD dogs increases harms for drug users, potentially infringes on civil liberties, is not a cost effective policy and facilitates rather than impedes drug supply at events and venues. VIVAIDS recommends that the use of sniffer dogs in Victoria and Australia wide be disbanded immediately.

Thank You : 

Thank You Club Health 2008 Turning Point Drug and Alcohol Centre Fitzroy Legal Service RaveSafe volunteers past and present, thank you, for making RaveSafe what it is today. We could not have done it without you

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