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Speech on misuse of Police powers of search

Nandor's speech on misuse of Police powers of search and seizure

25 July 2001

The misuse of Police powers of search and seizure Speech to Parliament - General Debate Slot 6 Check Against Delivery Embargoed until delivery - around 4.30pm

Today I would like to tell a story about a young man hitch-hiking through Te Aroha. He gets picked up by two guys, Maori, in a valiant - a bit rough looking but friendly enough.

The car is pulled over by the police. They order everyone out and begin to search it. They find nothing.

"Whose bag is that?" they ask.

"Mine," answers the hitch-hiker.

"Can we look inside it?"

"No, I don't consent to a search." He's been through this many, many times and is well sick of this kind of hassle.

"Bit of a bush lawyer are you? OK you little arsehole, I'm using my powers under the Misuse of Drugs Act to search this bag."

"On what grounds? You must have good reason to believe that someone is in possession of drugs to use those powers. What grounds do you have?"

The cop just smiles. Searches the bag and the man. Finds nothing.

A report must be filed within three days to justify the use of these powers. The young man writes and requests a copy. The report says the officer could smell cannabis.

He writes to Police Commissioner Jamieson, as it was then, to complain. No cannabis was smoked by anyone in the car, there was no way the officer could smell any. It was obvious that the search was because the people in the car had dreadlocks. Religious persecution.

The Commissioner replies. Not only did the officer smell cannabis, but he found a half smoked joint. Count yourself lucky you weren't charged.

Like most people, the young man gave up in disgust at a system set up against him.

That young man was me a few years ago.

Some members of this house probably think 'so what?' Very few of them will have been randomly stopped and searched by the police because of how they look. You can be a dreadlock, you can be a punk, you can be a homey, you might just be young or brown. That is enough to bring down hassle upon your head.

It is humiliating. You've done nothing wrong. Why should you be singled out? You can be strip searched. If you get lippy, you can get the bash.

I remember asking a friend if he gets stopped a lot. I was amazed when he said that he had never been stopped in his life. I has assumed that it happened to everyone.

No points for guessing that he is a pakeha man, short blond hair, blue eyes.

There are some important lessons from all of this.

The first lesson is that the emergency search powers under the Misuse of Drugs Act give the police arbitrary powers of search and seizure. This was confirmed by the President of the Police Association Greg O'Connor in the Health Select Committee last week. The New Zealand Bill of Rights protects against arbitrary arrest and detention and against unreasonable search and seizure. The powers of search under the Misuse of Drugs Act are incompatible with that.

The second lesson is that police target people due to their appearance. This was also confirmed by Mr O'Connor last week . He said that I used to be searched by the police regularly because my appearance could have led them to believe that I was involved in criminal activity. What on earth does this mean?

The third lesson that far too many people already know is that the police abuse those powers. Mr O'Connor tated that police searched me under the Misuse of Dugs Act because they might be looking for a knife.

Why didn't they use the Arms Act? Because it is easier to say 'you smelled of Cannabis' than to justify a search for a weapon with no evidence.

Parliament doesn't have a clue what is going on out there on the streets. Most searches are never even reported. And if people try to complain, they can be actively discouraged at the police station.

Now lets be clear. I am not saying that all police officers behave this way. But some clearly do. The search and seizure provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Act are open to abuse, and they are abused.

I am calling for an inquiry into the abuse by police of the search and seizure provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Act and the civil rights implications of that. I hope that other members will support that call.

ends

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