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Should Police Sniffer Dogs Be Banned From Music Festivals?

NSW Greens have introduced a bill to ban sniffer dogs from music festivals.

Jordan, a 23-year-old med student, was lining up to get into music festival Defqon last year, when a police dog started sniffing around his feet. "Do you have any drugs on your possession?" asked a police officer.

The NSW Greens say police put hundreds of people through similar experiences to Jordan, only to find them completely clean two out of three times. So they threw a big party yesterday and drug dogs were not welcome.

Why not? Because according to the NSW Greens, drug dogs are wrong 64-72% of the time.

And they say when they do find drugs they're often not busting dealers, just people who have small amounts for personal use.

"We've been compiling statistics and they paint a clear picture of a program that's a comprehensive failure and an assault on civil liberties," says Greens MP and justice spokesperson David Shoebridge.

"In the last year of figures there were more than 17,000 occasions where police searched people and in more than 11,000 cases the dogs got it wrong and the people had no drugs," he told BuzzFeed News.

DJs Paul Mac, Platform 19, Hubble and Wyldestyle played at the Greens' "Sniff Off" party to protest the use of drug sniffer dogs by police at festivals and music events.

The Greens introduced a bill this week to ban drug detection dogs in public spaces without a warrant.

NSW Police says sniffer dogs are very effective and play an important role in deterrence.

NSW Police says many people throw out their drugs when they see police dogs.

"Drug detection dogs have a strong deterrence factor: in addition to the seizure of prohibited drugs from dealers and users, individuals regularly dump these drugs upon seeing the dogs. These drugs are not consumed and therefore the significant risk of harm avoided.

"The prevention of a death of a person through Drug Detection Dog deployment is immeasurable."

But Dan McNamee from Art vs Science, who supports the Greens' bill, says drug dogs at festivals actually encourage dangerous drug taking because people panic and end up "ingesting their whole weekend's supply of drugs."

So rather than deterring people from taking illegal drugs, it could be encouraging them to take even bigger risks.

"I really hate sniffer dogs," says Tom Lowndes, the Australian DJ behind the internationally-renowned dance party, Hot Dub Time Machine.

"The problem with sniffer dogs for me is the assumption of guilt. Police assume if you are on a dance floor you're doing something wrong but it's just not true," he told BuzzFeed News.

Lowndes, who has played major festivals such as Coachella in the US and Edinburgh Fringe in Scotland, says he's noticed the police presence at dance parties is more aggressive in Australia than in other other countries. First of all, there's no sniffer dogs.

"Police in Scotland have a less confrontational approach to nightlife, and it's no less debauched and crazy there than it is in Australia, but the police presence is more about safety than about imposing their presence. Their approach to party culture is very different."

He says he played in one of the wildest parties in Edinburgh and police would stand upstairs and look over the crowd. "They wouldn't go into the middle of the dance floor and just make everyone feel like shit."

When Tom came back to Australia, the first gig he played was a much tamer night at the University of New South Wales.

"You know, these students are straighter than straight, and the cops came in to the middle of the dance floor with the dogs and they were searching all these kids and I don't even know if they caught anyone." he said.

Another concern is that dancefloor police raids such as these damage the relations between police and young people.

"Certainly one of our concerns is that increased surveillance leads to dangerous behaviour," says Dr Nadine Ezard, clinical director of the Drug and Alcohol Service at St Vincent's hospital in Sydney.