Trends and offending circumstances in the police use of drug detection dogs in New South Wales 2008–2018

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New South Wales (NSW) was the first Australian state to introduce drug detection dogs as a street-level policing strategy. In 2006, the NSW Ombudsman released damning evidence that challenged the dogs’ effectiveness. Over a decade later, drug detection dogs remain a core policing policy in NSW, and the powers surrounding their use have expanded. This study provides the first comprehensive analysis of drug dog deployment since the NSW Ombudsman Review. Specifically, it analyses unit-record data on all recorded criminal incidents and persons of interest (POIs) involving drug detection dogs that led to a formal police response in NSW from June 2008 to June 2018. The analysis shows that the main target group has remained young males detected for use/possession offences, albeit that the dogs have detected a small but potentially significant population of drug suppliers, and that the circumstances for their detection differ markedly to that for consumers. The results further show that there has been a small reduction in the number of overall detections recorded by police. However, this trend has not been driven by a decrease in use/possession offences detected, and thus large numbers of use/possession offenders, as opposed to drug suppliers, continue to be policed via this policy each year. This paper discusses the implications of these findings for policy and practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-23
Number of pages20
JournalCurrent Issues in Criminal Justice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Drug detection dogs
  • Drug law enforcement
  • illicit drugs
  • police
  • policing strategies


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