On Saturday September 20 the Sydney International Regatta Centre in Penrith hosted Defqon1 2014. Over 200 police officers from Penrith Local Area Command, the North West Metropolitan Region and the Dog Squad were present at the event.
Three drug detection dogs were reportedly screening attendees at the entrance. During the event police reported conducting 372 person searches with 83 drug detections – a false positive rate of over 75%. This is unusually high given that over the life of the program in NSW the false positive rate for all types of locations has been 65%.
Evading police a routine festival experience
Unharm director Will Tregoning commented that 'the high false positive rate shows how inefficient and ineffective these operations are. But there’s also no doubt that thousands made it past the dogs with drug in their possession. Evading drug dogs has just become a routine part of the festival experience, making a laughing stock of police and bringing policing into disrepute'
The police operation at Defqon1 was ridiculed in dozens of comments made on NSW Police Force's Facebook page in response to a post of the event's media release.
'Poor effort, it's pretty hilarious actually. Good work police HAHAHAHAHAHA Defqon – 1 Nsw police – 0’.
‘Well done police dogs lol 83 arrests from 19500 ppl walking in with drugs lol’.
‘Only 83 people got done hahaha. 100% certain that 90% of people were off there head hahaha’
Safety concerns over increased risks from dog operation
In advance of the festival, Unharm called for no drug dog operation at the event due to concerns that panic over the presence of dogs would increase the risk of attendees overdosing. In 2013 a 23 year old man overdosed at Defqon1. In his father’s account, he took three ecstasy pills at once when he saw that there was a drug dog operation at the entrance, and died that night.
Penrith Police refused to take up Unharm's call for them to support rather than detract from the harm reduction work done by Red Cross' Save A Mate Program at the festival. 30 Save A Mate volunteers staffed a harm reduction outreach program at the festival on Saturday.
Prior to the event NSW Police issued a warning to attendees about pills containing 25c-NBOMe, but no pill-testing services were available to attendees.
Dr Alex Wodak calls for new approaches
Dr Alex Wodak, President of the Australia Drug Law Reform Foundation criticised the operation, commenting that 'Drug dogs are an expensive way of inadvertently increasing the risk faced by young people from recreational drugs. Drug dogs are very inaccurate with a high rate of false positives and false negatives - and they also terrify a lot of young people. We should try to find other more effective, less expensive and more humane ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs than this approach which has been rejected by an Ombudsman’s report. A number of countries now allow pill testing to reduce the harm caused by drugs at music venues’.
Festival attendees critical of police operation
Festival attendee Sally Cruse claimed that there was an overuse of police at the event and commented that 'it's really disappointing knowing that part of the reason we are paying huge prices for our tickets is to fund a pointless police operation that terrorises kids.'
A sample of comments responding to NSWPF Facebook post of the media release about the Defqon1 operation are below.
‘So 200 police were payed a daily wage to stand around in uniform and watch a couple of dogs sniff people as they walk in, acting as if the dog is actually effective. More often than not it's the police who pick out individuals because of their appearance. This is then followed by them walking around "patrolling the event" to ensure safety when really they don't pay attention. All of this money spent to then write a short Facebook status which then provokes so much hatred toward the police. I can't seem to make much sense of it all’
‘Hahaha omg that's it? Really? My god I watched people walk right past the dogs whom I knew were carrying and the dogs did nothing at all! Must have been confused at the 30 plus different smells they were smelling all at once’
‘I got offered or asked for drugs over 100 times, you could get pills, caps, psychoactives easier than you could get a mixed drink, stop talking yourselves up, there were tonnes of drugs and no casualties. This just further proves that the thing that kills people at defqon are your dogs and thug like tactics’