Police fail to utilise bikie laws but overstep legal authority during raids, NSW Ombudsman finds
A review has cast doubt on whether NSW police powers targeting outlaw motorcycle gangs [OMCG] are necessary, after finding they have not been used in the three years since they were introduced.
In 2013 police were given greater powers to seize weapons, drugs and alcohol.
The laws also enabled them to raid a suspected OMCG clubhouse for weapons and explosives, without a warrant, if it was declared a restricted premises.
NSW Ombudsman John McMillan told Parliament police had only applied for one such declaration in the past two years, and that was withdrawn after the owner of the premises stopped it being used as a bikie clubhouse.
Professor McMillan said police did however conduct seven searches with warrants during the period of the review from November 2013 to October 2016.
"So far police have used the new powers only to conduct a search of premises belonging to bikie clubhouses to see whether there were restricted items there," he said.
"Those searches could have been undertaken using existing powers.
"Overall we were not able to conclude that the amendments have enhanced police's ability to disrupt OMCGs or to detect firearms".
Despite his department's findings, Professor McMillan stopped short of calling for the changes to the Restricted Premises Act to be repealed.
"We've recommended a further review and certainly if in a couple of years there has been no use of the law you could question whether it's achieving any particular purpose in having it on the statute books," he said.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said a further review was unnecessary.
"When the Parliament passed through these extraordinary powers to the police, they said as part of the check and balance we're going to have a review by the Ombudsman, so if there are any problems ... it'll be picked up by the Ombudsman," he said.
"The laws aren't needed [and] where they've been used, they've been abused — these are a set of laws that should now be scrubbed off the statute book."
Police overstep the mark during raids, Ombudsman fears
The NSW Ombudsman's report also raised concerns that police over-reached their authority during the raids.
"While the searches were correctly undertaken using existing powers, some of the activities during the course of the search had doubtful legal basis," he said.
It was found in six searches, police virtually stripped the clubhouses, seizing items including furniture, clothing and memorabilia, and sound and lighting systems.
The officers also dismantled bars and stages to remove them from the premises.
"We doubt whether there was legal authority to take that away," Professor McMillan said.
He called on the Commissioner of Police to take steps to ensure his officers lawfully used seizure powers.
Professor McMillan also believed police might also have over-stepped their authority in handling people found on premises by demanding identification and conducting personal searches.
He recommended police be given a new power to deal with individuals so that raids can be conducted safely and legally.