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Sniffer Dogs

Where can police use drug sniffer dogs?

Police have very broad powers to use drug sniffer dogs in the exercise of any of their duties.

If police are entitled to be in a particular place, then they are allowed to have a drug sniffer dog with them. This means that wherever police are legally performing their functions, they can bring a drug sniffer dog.

Police have the right without a warrant, to search (including with a sniffer dog) any person in a public place that they reasonably suspect may be in possession of drugs, drug-related substances or drug manufacturing equipment.

Sniffer dogs are frequently used at concerts and festivals such as the Big Day Out and other large events with lots of young people.

Police officers are required to keep sniffer dogs under control and take reasonable precautions to make sure that sniffer dogs don’t touch or hurt people.

If a sniffer dog sits down next to you, does this mean that the police can search you?

Yes. The Northern Territory legislation specifically states that if a drug sniffer dog indicates that it can smell an illegal drug (e.g. the dog sits down next to you) then the police have a reason to search you.

What should I do if the police want to search me? 

If this happens, try to remember these tips:

  • Keep calm and be polite. Swearing or behaving offensively to the police will not help your situation. Usually it is a good idea to cooperate with the police and let them search you.
  • The police can ask for your name and address if they reasonably believe that an offence may have been committed and that you could help with their investigation. They have to give you a reason for asking. Ask them if you have to give them this information. If they say you don’t have to, then don’t. If they insist, you should cooperate – otherwise you may be fined. You may also be fined for giving the police false information about.
  • You can ask the police for their name, evidence that they are a police officer (if not in uniform) and their place of duty. Try to remember when and where they search you. This information can be important for you to know what is going on, as well as if you decide to make a complaint.
  • If you do have drugs on you and you have been taken into lawful custody, the police will need to identify you. If this happens, you should immediately seek legal advice.
  • If you do have drugs, the police may decide to give you a caution instead of charging you with an offence. For more information about this, see our page Youth Justice.

For more information, see our page on Police search powers and Criminal law.


This information was last updated 11 June 2010.