Sniffer dogs near Lismore during 2009 Mardi Grass Festival.
Sniffer dogs near Lismore during 2009 Mardi Grass Festival. David Nielsen

Police defend use of sniffer dogs

FIGURES that show sniffer dogs are wrong four out of five times dampened the launch of the NSW Police Force's new dog squad program this week.

On Wednesday, the NSW Police Minister Michael Gallacher officially launched the Police Force's Dog Unit Regionalisation Program, which will see seven commands across NSW get a boost in the form of a dog squad.

Richmond Local Area Command (LAC) welcomed a general-purpose german shepherd, a drug detection labrador and a police dog handler last month.

Tweed-Byron LAC has also been allocated a dog unit.

As the police canines were showing off their capabilities at a demonstration in Coffs Harbour on Wednesday, the NSW Greens were releasing figures that showed sniffer dogs were less than effective.

In statistics obtained through parliamentary questioning, Greens MP and justice spokesman David Shoebridge discovered 11,248 people were wrongly identified as having drugs by sniffer dogs between January and September this year.

Mr Shoebridge said something with an 80% error rate could not be considered reasonable.

"These thousands of false positives mean there are thousands of innocent people being ritually humiliated on our public streets and public transport network," he said.

Admitting sniffer dogs did have a role in policing, Mr Shoebridge said they should be used when there is other police intelligence that identifies a drug.

Tweed MP and NSW parliamentary secretary for police Geoff Provest disagreed.

"Sniffer dogs are a good deterrent," he said.

"Sure there is an element of error but it also creates an element of fear in people with drugs.

"(The dog squad) will create greater security for the officers and going by the evidence over the border in Queensland, the apprehension rate of offenders is good."

Mr Provest confirmed the number of people wrongly identified as having drugs was justified when compared to the drugs taken off the streets.

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