Sniffer dogs are set to be deployed in schools in an attempt to combat drug use among students.
The approach was part of the current Government’s 2018 election platform and the protocols to activate the policy have now been signed off.
There’s only problem with the plan… and it’s that nearly every element of the plan is flawed.
Walk with us, as we unpack 5 reasons why sniffer dogs in schools is problematic.
1. Sniffer dogs don’t actually work
This is a big one. Sniffer dogs aren’t accurate. They’re adorable. But not accurate.
According to the South Australian Government’s own data: In 2017-18 police dogs or drug detection systems indicated a person was carrying drugs on 2715 occasions, but drugs were only found on 485 of the people searched.
So to translate that – the success rate of sniffer dogs last year was 17.8%, meaning 82.2% were erroneously identified.
In an article on the ABC, criminal lawyer Rachael Shaw was quoted as saying, ‘… the fact that there seems to be a high figure of error in the statistics even more so reinforces my view that it's an unnecessary and clearly inaccurate way of detecting drugs in our schools’.
Peta Malins, a lecturer in justice and legal studies at RMIT University, compiled the literature and found that the presence of sniffer dogs, rather than acting as a deterrent, can lead people in possession of illicit drugs to act in an unsafe manner to avoid detection, including:
Consuming drugs quickly if sniffer dogs are present
Using the drugs in advance
Stashing drugs in internal cavities
So this is an inaccurate solution.
2. Drug use is already low, and declining
This is a serious policy decision with far-reaching impacts that you would expect would be based upon sound evidence.
However, recent illicit drug use statistics do not support the notion of an increase in the use of illicit drugs that would warrant the use of sniffer dogs in schools.
The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) demonstrated that there were overall and significant declines in the use of meth/amphetamines (from 2.1% to 1.4%), hallucinogens (from 1.3% to 1.0%) and synthetic cannabis (from 1.2% to 0.3%) between 2013 and 2016. The use of illicit drugs amongst young people 14-19 has also decreased since 2001 with reported use falling from 18% in 2001 to 9% in 2016.
So this is an inaccurate solution to a problem that’s already declining.
3. It’s goes against the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
At YACSA, we’re pretty big fans of human rights. We’re particularly fans of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and we think governments should protect and promote the rights of young people.
The rights afforded to young people under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are clear that children and young people should not be subjected to arbitrary interference of their privacy (Article 16). The ‘Sniffer Dogs in Schools Policy’ subjects children and young people to arbitrary interference in their privacy. This policy suggests that young people should forgo their rights to assist government to undertake a war against a ’[drug] scourge in our schools’.
And the word arbitrary here is important, because there are already existing laws that give the police power to search in schools if there is ‘suspicion of drug activity’. So the new policy goes beyond that by giving the police powers to search even when there are no grounds for suspicion. It’s arbitrary (random).
So this is an inaccurate solution to a problem that’s already declining that goes against the human rights of children and young people.
4. They’re not targeting all schools – just public schools
The current plan by the government focusses on allowing sniffer dogs into public schools. While there is provision for private schools to ‘opt in’, the policy expressly targets public school students. Being subject to arbitrary police searches because you do not attend a private school problematic, offensive and discriminatory.
So this is a discriminatory policy that poses an inaccurate solution to a problem that’s already declining, and goes against the human rights of children and young people.
5. What should they do instead?
The policy will not stop young people using drugs.
A focus on punitive measures at the expense of evidence-based prevention and early intervention responses appears counterproductive and runs the risk of humiliation, demonisation and introducing young people unnecessarily to the youth justice system.
Government should must instead invest in prevention and early intervention services and programs whose primary aim is to strengthen families and communities while addressing the personal, familial and societal factors that lead young people to use illicit and licit drugs.
So *takes a deep breath* this is a discriminatory policy that poses an inaccurate solution to a problem that’s already declining, and goes against the human rights of children and young people, and we know it won’t work and that there are better solutions available.
So… why is this happening…?