End use of drug dogs, reduce police presence at future Mardi Gras: study

A study of policing at WorldPride and Mardi Gras events in 2023 found it was heavy-handed and damaging to its relationship with the LGBTQIA+ community.

A group of law academics, legal professionals and advocates has called for a scaling back of police operations at future Mardi Gras events after a study of policing at Sydney World Pride and Mardi Gras venues in 2023 found it to be excessively aggressive, invasive and in some cases, potentially unlawful.

The study was authored by academics from UNSW Sydney, the University of Sydney and the University of Newcastle and was published recently in the journal Current Issues in Criminal Justice. It comes in the wake of increased scrutiny of policing in relation to the LGBTQIA+ communities following the decision by Mardi Gras organisers to ask NSW Police to not wear their uniforms in this year’s parade.

Associate Professor Vicki Sentas from UNSW Law & Justice says policing outside the Domain Dance party, the Mardi Gras after party and the closing ceremony Rainbow Republic during World Pride events in 2023 was characterised by invasive questioning of patrons, a dubious use of drug detection dog patrols, humiliating and potentially unlawful searches, and instances of use of force.

“Police drug detection operations at WorldPride and Mardi Gras events in 2023 were large in scale, heavy-handed and not justified,” A/Prof. Sentas says.

“More than 200 police were deployed solely for drug detection at the three parties we studied, but drug charges were overwhelmingly for possession, not supply.

“This flies in the face of harm minimisation principles which emphasise that police target supply, not possession.”

According to the data available to the researchers from police records, drug possession represented 88 per cent (or 50 charges) of all drugs charges during the World Pride events, and 58 per cent (or 95 fines) of all fines issued. But just seven charges were for supply.

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