Wednesday, 25 August 2010

SA Government - More Dodgy Figures & Dangerous Rhetoric

I have written before about South Australia’s willingness to sacrifice their constituent's wellbeing for a misguided and dangerous drug policy. With total disregard for people’s safety and ignoring the readily available evidence, the Rann government blazes ahead with backward thinking policies under the guise of being "Tough on Drugs". What the government doesn’t tell you is that their ignorant strategies often result in a worst situation for much of the community and they never have the desired results. 

In fact, they often make public announcements that their strategies are working by submitting misleading data and sensational headlines. Any examination of their so called “victories” will usually reveal an utter failure to meet any measurable success. 

These passive alert drug dogs and their handlers have clearly been working hard. They’ve made a significant dent in the drugs trade on our streets
-- Police Minister, Michael Wright

Drug Sniffer Dogs
For example, the latest media release by the police minister claims that the drug dog squad has “made a significant dent in the drugs trade on our streets” and puts up the figures to prove it. The problem is, the amount of seized drugs is minuscule and should be embarrassing if anything. It’s disturbing that a Police Minister will use such puny amounts of seized drugs and announce it’s evidence of their success. To make it worse, the minister bangs on about how far and wide these dogs have been unleashed on the public. Adelaide suburbs, rural centres, airports, railway stations, music festivals, dance venues and national highways is a lot of territory covered in12 months for only 19 arrests.

So how many illicit drugs were seized by the drug dog squad in 12 months? First the all important hard drugs: 6 grams of heroin and 38 grams of cocaine. Then the mid range drugs: 62 grams of amphetamine, 20 ml of GHB, 3 grams of ketamine. How about the soft drugs: 7.3 kilograms of cannabis, 540 ecstasy tablets, 8 LSD tablets. Misc: 28 tablets of dexamphetamine and 47 pieces of drug paraphernalia.

Yes, that’s it. Less than 0.001% of drugs used in SA over a 12 month period. And this is what the police minister boasted, “the highly trained and skilled canines had achieved outstanding results during that 12 month period”

It’s breathtaking that the millions of dollars available to tackle problems like street violence and personal safety is spent on chasing drug users. The minister in charge completely overlooks all the evidence that drug users has very little to do with these issues. Research clearly shows that it’s the legal drug, alcohol that is by far the main cause of violence in the entertainment precincts and all the drug dogs on the planet are not going to help while booze flows freely.

The Rann Government is committed to protecting South Australians and ensuring safety in our dining and entertaining precincts. Police will always execute drug-detection operations in hotspots well known for drug use and dealing with the violent consequences often resulting from those actions
-- Police Minister, Michael Wright

And what’s with the introduction of drug dogs at train stations and the Adelaide airport passenger terminal? Hoping to catch a drugged out, violent troublemaker boarding a train or a plane just doesn’t make sense. Unless, of course, the real plan is to scare the public with a menacing display of unapproachable and surly looking officers wearing paramilitary uniforms being led by police dogs. 

In addition to sniffing out and seizing such a significant haul of drugs, these animals also serve as a very effective visual deterrent to any would-be drug dealers and takers
-- Police Minister, Michael Wright

Monica Barratt, Research Fellow at Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre in Melbourne, wrote an excellent article that asked the question, Do drug dogs deter use?. It seems the answer is no. Monica did what the SA government should have done and searched for evidence that drug dogs are effective. It’s a worry when a state government with huge resources, hundreds of staff and our safety in their hands fail to research an issue that has such far reaching effects. Especially when Monica Barratt can simply do it for a blog.

Clearly if MDMA dealers are not being caught, then the stated aim of employing sniffer dogs (to catch dealers) has not been met so far. Even most users would not get caught, given that they will either hide more effectively, choose different venues like house parties over large music events, or buy drugs inside the venues rather than from a known dealer.

we return to examining the media mentions of drug busts assisted by sniffer dogs. There, I believe, we find our answer. Sniffer dogs assist police in making more arrests, and these arrests become newsworthy for the general public, who in turn believe the police are doing ‘something’ about ‘drugs’.

Benefits Vs. Problems
The important question though is what benefits are these new, tough drug laws and strategies achieving? A reduction in drug use? Safer streets from violent drug gangs? Fewer teens taking up drugs? Arrests of drug dealers? Are they well thought out policies based on evidence and advice from experts?

A media release from Police Minister, Michael Wright in February 2010, mocked the Liberal opposition leader, Isobel Redmond for being "Soft on Drugs”. It seems, her conclusions based on scientific evidence were somehow running down “the good work of our police men and women for petty political purposes…”

Back in December 2006, Isobel Redmond rightly said, “I mean certainly the information is that ecstasy doesn’t seem to be as big a risk as a number of other drugs.”

The police minister, Michael Wright twisted her scientifically sound statement by saying she was, “downplaying the risks of taking ecstasy”

And just like reading from a politician’s handbook, Wright added, Ecstasy, like almost all illicit drugs, is a lethal substance that ruins lives and tears families apart.

Isobel Redmond was right. Ecstasy(MDMA) in it’s pure form causes very few problems and very little harm compared to other drugs including alcohol. The main problem with ecstasy is the contaminants that ruthless manufacturers cut it with. Ironically, the Rann government threatened some medical groups with legal action for setting up pill testing booths at music festivals to determine what users were buying. These illogical decisions were the epitome of an expedient government who were far more concerned with votes than people’s lives. The simple truth was that telling people that ecstasy was evil and arresting users was not having any impact but a small group of concerned doctors and nurses did manage to get the message across - the real danger is buying street drugs without knowing what’s in them. Scientifically testing pills and showing what was in them, made much more headway than the government’s lies and exaggerations ever did. But as we now know, Rann has an agenda and it has nothing to do with reducing harm, it’s about winning votes and appeasing the conservative, anti-drug lobby.

Some of the SA government’s new drug initiatives included banning the equipment used in the manufacture of illicit drugs and the possession of more than 60 listed “precursor” or ingredient chemicals. Although they may seem like worthy causes, in reality, they changed the pill market from the relatively safe drug ecstasy(MDMA) to pills made with crude ingredients like amphetamines, sleeping tablets, MDA and the highly dangerous PMA(para-methoxyamphetamine). What really made this a tragedy is that several people had already died from PMA in the mid 1990s which the government knew about.

PMA has been linked to a number of Australian deaths over the years. Six people died in South Australia between September 1995 and January 1996 after taking PMA, either alone or combined with MDMA. All indications are that the users believed they were taking MDMA alone and did not realize that PMA was present in the tablet they used.

Pill testing is just one failure from SA’s drug policy. In their February media release, the Rann Government boasted that their new drug initiatives were “designed to cripple the illegal drug-trade”. But as we have seen, when scrutinised, these initiatives have actually caused more damage than good.

Below is the Rann government’s anti-drug initiatives:

• Banning the equipment used in the manufacture of illicit drugs; 
• Banned the possession of more than 60 listed “precursor” or ingredient chemicals 
• Trebling the expiation penalties for possession of cannabis; 
• Banning the sale of drug paraphernalia; 
• Introduced tough new Hydroponics laws to crackdown on the cultivation of hydroponically grown cannabis 
• Introduced drug detection dogs

Drug Paraphernalia
When opposition leader, Isobel Redmond opposed the ban of drug paraphernalia, Rann publicly berated her for trying to “save the bong”. But what Mike Rann and Michael Wright didn’t declare was that Redmond was basing her decision on medical advice and scientific evidence. The claims from the Wright, Rann and Ann Bressington (MLC), that drug paraphernalia “sent the wrong message to the community” and “normalised drug use” were simply wrong. In fact, all evidence shows that removing access to certain drug paraphernalia like industrial quality smoking pipes can cause major health problems and even death for users. Interestingly enough, research also shows that banning drug paraphernalia does not deter drug use, send the wrong message or normalise drugs. In other words, the Drug Paraphernalia Bill was pointless except to provide a public display of being "Tough on Drugs”.

Toughening Cannabis Laws
SA was once the most progressive state in Australia for drug laws. It reflected the future path for Australia based on our Harm Minimisation policy and common sense.  ACT, WA and NT were all influenced by SA and their successful cannabis policy. Sadly, the Rann government jumped on Howard’s "Tough on Drugs" push and took the state back to the 1950s. Many people are still wondering how the countries most progressive state became a relic for failed, conservative drug laws in the span of just one government. And a Labor government at that. 

History is not going to be kind to the Rann government. As drug policies around the world are being scrutinised more closely, the governments that try to reverse important changes to outdated drug laws will come under increasing pressure. No longer is it just a matter of declaring a state is "Tough on Drugs" and the public nod in quiet approval. Research and reality is empowering people to see through the tired old rhetoric that we once took for granted. 

Attorney General Michael Atkinson, Police Minister Michael Wright and Premier Mike Rann have a lot to answer for. Their continuing drive to force failed and dangerous drug laws onto the community is costing lives and ruining families … much more than drugs themselves. It takes a tough politician to reject the current strategies and anti-drug propaganda but these 3 stooges along with a complicit parliament have helped create this situation. With the help of Anne Bressington MLC, they have repeatedly abused and mocked anyone who dare put up scientific evidence as part of the debate. This has led to many politicians, who feel the drug war is causing damage to society, not being able to say anything for fear of being labelled radical or even worse, “Soft on Drugs”. For rational thinking folks, this degrading of science for the sake of scoring political brownies is reprehensible. Sadly, the bullshit goes on, dangerous drug policies continue and Police Minister, Michael Wright will continue to exploit a gullible public.

News Release
Hon Michael Wright
Minister for Police Minister for Emergency Services Minister for Recreation, Sport & Racing
Thursday, 19 August 2010

SAPOL’s three passive alert drug detection dogs have snagged hundreds of illicit pills, sniffed out more than 7 kilos of cannabis and detected dozens of pieces of drug paraphernalia over the past 12 months. Latest figures indicate that police drug dogs were deployed 205 times in metro and regional South Australia, resulting in the arrests of 19 people in the 2009-2010 financial year just ended. Police Minister, Michael Wright said the highly trained and skilled canines had achieved outstanding results during that 12 month period.

“These passive alert drug dogs and their handlers have clearly been working hard. They’ve made a significant dent in the drugs trade on our streets,” Minister Wright said.

“The dogs have been pounding the pavement in Hindley Street, Semaphore and Glenelg, but they’ve also been busy in country areas, including Mount Gambier, Naracoorte, Renmark, Whyalla, Port Augusta, Ceduna and Victor Harbor.”

Drugs located and seized during dog deployments have included approximately: 
• 540 ecstasy tablets 
• 8 LSD tablets 
• 7.3 kilograms of cannabis
• 62 grams of amphetamine 
• 3 grams of ketamine 
• 38 grams of cocaine 
• 20 ml ‘GHB’
• 6 grams of heroin 
• 28 tablets of dexamphetamine 
• 47 pieces of drug paraphernalia including an ice pipe and cocaine kit

“Routine patrols, as well as operations, have also been conducted at the Adelaide airport passenger terminal and railway stations at Noarlunga, Adelaide, Keswick, Woodville, Salisbury and Elizabeth,” Minister Wright said.

“Large scale events and festivals have also been targeted by the drug sniffing dogs. They’ve patrolled ‘dance music’ concerts at Bonython and Rymill Park, the ‘Big Day Out’ concert at Wayville and the Clipsal 500.

“In addition to sniffing out and seizing such a significant haul of drugs, these animals also serve as a very effective visual deterrent to any would-be drug dealers and takers.

“The Dog Operations Unit currently has three dogs trained to detect drug odours of all kinds, including heroin, amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine and their derivatives,” Minister Wright said.

“Drug transit routes coming in and out of the State were also under the microscope over the 12 month period.”

The PADD dogs were deployed to National Highway One (Port Wakefield); Eyre Highway (Ceduna, Kimba and Port Augusta); Dukes Highway (Keith); Princes Highway (Monteith); Stuart Highway (Glendambo and Marla); and the Riddoch Highway (Naracoorte)

In total, deployments of the drug dogs in the past year have resulted in:
• 19 arrests 
• 344 reports 
• 167 drug diversions

“The Rann Government is committed to protecting South Australians and ensuring safety in our dining and entertaining precincts. Police will always execute drug-detection operations in hotspots well known for drug use and dealing with the violent consequences often resulting from those actions,” Minister Wright said.

Public Response
Much of the media reported on the Police Minister’s latest media release but I failed to see any scrutiny of the figures put forward. Every article I read. painted a positive picture of the police catching nasty druggies with the aid of some loveable pooches. Is this what we now expect from the media? Surprising though, there were many comments on the AdelaideNow website where readers saw right through the media release and the misleading figures put out by Police Minister, Michael Wright. When readers of AdelaideNow start questioning the honesty of the police and their so called success from catching those much hated druggies, you know that something is not quite right.

Drug Dogs Get A Pat On The Back
August 2010

DRUG detection dogs have sniffed out more than 500 ecstasy pills and 7kg of cannabis over the past financial year.

Figures from SA Police show the three "passive alert drug detection" dogs were deployed 205 times across the metropolitan and regional areas and were instrumental in the arrests of 19 people.

Police Minister Michael Wright said the dogs made a "significant dent" in the SA street trade.

The dogs have located:

* 540 ecstasy tablets
* 7.3kg cannabis
* 62g amphetamine
* 28 dexamphetamine tablets
* 38g cocaine
* 20ml of GHB
* 8 LSD tablets
* 6g heroin
* 47 pieces of "drug paraphernalia" including an "ice" pipe and "cocaine kit".

"The dogs have been pounding the pavement in Hindley St, Semaphore and Glenelg, but they've also been busy in country areas including Mt Gambier, Naracoorte, Renmark, Whyalla, Port Augusta, Ceduna and Victor Harbor," Mr Wright said.

The dogs have also been deployed at Adelaide Airport, train stations, at dance music events, the Big Day Out and Clipsal 500.

from the above article
(My favourites are in blue)

Some Guy
I got sniffed on the train a week ago on the way home by a police dog. Since when has this been acceptable to be harassed by police while travelling to and from work for no reason? While I don't condone illegal drug use this surely sets a bad precedent if innocent individuals get bothered while going about their daily chores.

John of Parafield
Great stats. But what is the cost of buying, training and keeping these dogs, and their handlers, to get this great result? And have they really achieved anything or did those who had all this stuff confiscated simply go out and buy more of the same?

And how much tax payers money of Adelaide was wasted?
So, I see more propoganda from the police today. A big dent hey? You have got to be kidding me! I attended 2 dance festivals and the Soundwave over the last year and let me tell you, you have made NO dent AT ALL. There were just as many people there consuming this stuff, as in all the years before. All you are doing is scaring the recreational takers from maybe having their stuff before they get to the venue, instead of trying to get it inside. You have not hurt the dealers and you have wasted police time and you have significantly wasted tax payers money. Problem is that people in society lap up the garbage from our police and governments. I bet the figures shown above would not even be a weeks work for some dealers. Why do we continually go down this path?

stan of flagstaff hill
that's not really a whole lot, but it's a darn sight better than I could do Sniffing about. And what sort of fines were levelled against these wrongdoers? some guy you're probably right however there are ones amongst us that also say they have no problem giving DNA. citing if you haven't done anything wrong you shouldn't be worried. I personally take exception to both of these scenarios.

Bullied and Lied to of sa the only state with no icac coz of Labor-why?
LOL what a joke. SAPOL must be trying to justify their budget! The amount of drugs taken off the street is NOT a dent and I take offence to our Police Minister only commenting on certain police news. He has NOTHING to say about the armed robberies just more propaganda. Drug use is a HEALTH issue not a police issue. It is government that make drugs "criminal offences" and they only do it so they can thump chests at election time.

ICAC now pls
These stats wouldnt even equate to one nights 'trade' in adelaide for many dealers. once again, perception is not reality.

get real
All drug sniffing dogs do is make users scoff their drugs, causing a risk of overdose, or to switch to drugs that can't be detected by dogs and may be more dangerous. Shame on the cops for using this tactic to look like they are doing something. Dealers arent on the streets or at festivals, you dont catch the dealers that way. Why dont the cops concentrate on making the streets safer by catching real criminals

Since when is drug use just a health issue? People commit crimes to support their drug habits. Read the whole article, this was the result of 3 passive alert detection dogs, not all drug detection dogs used by SAPOL. Just like any other policing, it is a little hit and miss but the results are pretty reasonable. I would hardly think that a dog sniffing the air around a person is harassment!

Peter Climatianos of Henley Beach
I am sorry to say but you are all clowns. Good work SAPOL and the dog squad for makking these loser junkies think twice about dealing on our streets and in our clubs. Lock up all the junkies i say.

Langdon of Adelaide
I would also like records to be kept on 'false positives'. How many innocent citizens have had their lives interfered with on the 'so called' probable cause of a dog sniffing them? Figures I have read suggest that there are many many more 'false positives' than there are actual discoveries of drugs after a forced search. I suspect if the police just stopped & searched selected people (illegally of course) over a one year period they would get many many more convictions. Personally I think its an invasion of privacy and the sooner we move to laws like in Holland where a person cannot be searched until charged and then only searched at the police station, the better for all concerned. Those sniffer dog figures are small fry - if we are going to allow illegal searches (as I feel any search based on nothing more than the interest of a dog must surely be) why not just block off all exists from a street or town and strip search everyone? One day someone will argue that there was no probable cause and they will win. (On a side note: I am 100% sure dogs cannot smell LSD as it has no odour).

100% Afro of Adelaide
Peter... as a few of the other people have already stated, dealers arent just roaming the streets and music festivals, the users are and the amount that these 3 dogs (deployed 205 times)in a year isnt that much at all! Put these dogs to use in neighbourhoods where suspected drug labs are PRODUCING the drugs and i can bet that they would find about 50x that amount and you would need to deploy them even LESS frequently than that! Just because you busted a bunch of bogans or snot nosed kids with some weed or pills on them doesnt mean you are making a difference to the drug dealers! I can bet that the stats you have provided here isnt even 1% of the drugs being dealt in Adelaide alone, let alone greater SA. This is a joke!

Haper of NorthEast
Some Guy, you are complaining about the drug detection dog sniffing you and being an inconvenince on your daily chore of catching a train to work... or wherever you were going about your buisness. A train is a public transport and is readily used by persons whom may be carrying, dealing in or exposed to a drug substance. If you dont like it drive and don't venture out of your coocoon of a home. All the rest of you complaining about the use of the dogs, get over yourselves those whom complain are the ones offending and have a problem with the extra attention...

Lysistrata of Adelaide
What a world! Portugal and several other countries have legalised all drugs. Switzerland gives heroin to addicts because it is cheaper and more humane than running a police system dedicated to locking up people with an obvious medical problem. South Australia just wants to rack 'em, pack 'em and stack 'em.

Traveller of Manningham
Sik'em Rex!

barry of Ridgehaven
6 grams of heroin?!? Oh great effort guys. Keep on targeting music festivals so you can fine casual users of Ecstasy and Cannabis for revenue.

WattleWaffler of outaspace
What a load of pollie waffle, if this amount of drugs is considered significant then South Australia has no drug problem at all compared with any other place on the planet.

Darren of Adelaide
This is a Joke, These Dogs were at The Clipsal 500 Yes and Made a False Detection due to Panadene Forte i had on the saturday. After being treated like a Criminal and Surrounded by Police i missed the Last 9 laps of the race on saturday which i still am not happy about. The next morning my mate got stopped at the gate when all he had on him was his wallet a pack of smokes and a mobile phone and a bacon and egg roll. And Funily enough the dog left me alone the next day. What did we get for false detections just a simple "Sorry" My mate was lucky his was on the way in not in the closing stages of the Race where we pay good money to go and watch live instead of tv to get harrased by police when i was in the paddock area as well.

Penny of HoldenHill
i wouldent mind knowing were the rest has gone i recon the owners are teaching the dogs to well and the dogs are sniffing way to hard lol....stop snorting doggys lol befor u get done for drugs lol

kaye adelaide
great job sapol keep it up if people are stupid enough to catch public transport with drugs then i say stiff you get what you deserve ive watched the dogs and they dont "harass" anyone just the people who deserve it obviously the people who complain about about it are more than likely carriers them self

Bullied and Lied to of sa the only state without an icac thanks to labor
If the government believe so many of its citizens may be using drugs then perhaps they should take the war on drugs funding and channel it into health instead? The only winner in making drugs a criminal issue is government. So why are we allowing those meant to serve us - punish us..

Go the Doggies of Sydney
Sorry "Langdon of Adelaide" what proof do you have that dogs cannot smell LSD ... I bet none. I have proof a dog can detect LSD. Dogs can detect trace odour which means if you have handled/used drugs you may still be stopped by a drug dog. Dogs do not lie or discriminate. Simple don’t handle/use drugs and you will not have a problem and shouldn’t be worried. Good work SAPOL and the dog squad

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A. Citizen said...

Thank you Terry. Your best article yet.
Everyone needs to read this particularly the people who believe the police can stop our drug problem.

One can only hope the liars in government are made to explain their actions.

Tatyanna (and Dorian too) said...

Ugh, I had to read this over a couple of times to take in all the "facts" being purported by the police and government. I have to wonder whether it IS legal for someone to be harassed, as one commenter put it, without due cause, by a dog nosing in his bag or luggage or pockets. I don't know the answer. Here, although we certainly have our over-zealous drug practices as you know, the dogs that go about with the police are mainly there to sniff out bombs and whatever they think terrorists are carrying through... another topic with suspicious results.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Mr. Citizen.
Last night I read the Libs Drug Policy which is all about "change". What a joke!!! It's exactly the same as every other drug policy in Australia. Well worth a read for a laugh:
Substance Abuse - Protecting the Victims: Punishing the Guilty

Terry Wright said...

Hi There Tatyanna
The big trend in Australia is using drug dogs. Also, there are new laws allowing "Stop & Search" powers for police without probable cause.

As my article states, there is no evidence that drug dogs actually deter drug use but plenty of proof that they can cause unnecessary deaths and harm.

Thanks for your comment.
(...and a big pat for Dorian)

tronica said...

Hey Terry. Great article. Glad my article was useful for yours - you did quite a detailed job of looking at this issue!

We have to be prepared to consider all the potential unintended consequences of policies like the use of drug detection dogs. We should be weighing those up with the expected benefits and evaluating both to determine whether we use any policy, be this in drugs or elsewhere. As you are well aware, evidence based policy is hard to find when it comes to drug policy!

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Tronica

We need more websites like yours.

Here it is for those who are curious:

Drugs, Internet, Society