With the first day of summer officially kicking off over the weekend, along with it – for Melbourne revellers – came the third leg of the massive electronic music festival, Stereosonic and the some 45,000 attendees were greeted with a strong police presence.
While Perth local council in the town of Claremont might think they had it bad with public defecation and urination, labelling the Stereosonic festival the “worst ever”; Victorian Police probably had more to complain about, with reports that nearly 100 festival-goers were arrested on drug offences at the Melbourne leg.
Following on from the major drugs (and weapon) bust at Strawberry Fields, The Herald Sun reports that a sniffer dog operation at Saturday’s Steresonic led to 92 arrests on various drug offenses, and one arrest for drunk and disorderly behaviour.
Police seized ecstasy, amphetamines, cocaine, cannabis, GHB and MDMA at the Royal Agricultural Showgrounds in Flemington, while 80 punters were referred to a drug diversion program, five receiving cannabis cautions and several more interviewed and charged in relation to possessing and trafficking.
Despite warnings from police officials before the event, which saw the likes of Tiësto, Avicii, Calvin Harris, Example and Major Lazer performing to the masses at the Melbourne Showgrounds, Acting Senior Sergeant Mark Pilkington was disappointed that many festival-goers persisted in attempting to bring in drugs to the event.
“There are always some patrons of music festivals who think that taking drugs will enhance their day,” Sen-Sgt Pilkington told the Moonee Valley Leader in the lead-up to the event, “unfortunately all too often we see the aftermath of the harm that drugs can cause.”
The figures of 93 arrests from a Passive Alert Detection Dog squad targeting the festival, as well local patrols outside the showgrounds post-event, was a slight increase from last year’s Steresonic, which saw 89 revellers arrested for possession of illicit drugs.
“These drugs are dangerous and are manufactured by criminals,” Sen Sgt Pilkington said in a statement. “We will continue to police these types of events in an attempt to limit the impact these drugs have on society.”
The presence of police at live music events has remained a constant this year, just last week at the annual Strawberry Fields festival in Denilquin, NSW Police used sniffer dogs throughout the electronic music festival, and officers conducted 114 person searches, 78 vehicle searches and 337 random breath tests while also issuing 12 traffic infringement notices.
Earlier this year, NSW Police said they were disappointed after conducting a huge bust of over 400 people at the annual Splendour In The Grass for drug related offences, including some of the crew working at the festival, and last year’s Creamfields Festival in Melbourne saw over 200 arrested in the biggest bust in Victorian festival history.
“Over 400 people were found in possession of prohibited drugs,” said Superintendent Stuart Wilkins after the Splendour bust. “That is simply unacceptable. This culture of drug-taking at music events needs to stop.”
“It’s also about the drugs we didn’t seize,” he added. “People who were clearly under the influence of drugs, the medical tent being absolutely flat out, police being called to assist with people who were suffering the effects of drugs and being violent or being unable to care for themselves.”
The festival drug busts have also begun to spill over into more localised concerts and performances, NSW Police with sniffer dogs have been conducting sweeps in Sydney, including interrupting a recent Tex Perkins concert at The Factory Theatre that saw one individual charged with possession.
The increased police presence at The Factory Theatre is part of a raft of new security and authoritative measure to crackdown on licensed venues in Sydney in an attempt to curb alcohol related-violence, including more police patrols with sniffer dogs that will be allowed to search members of the public without requiring a warrant.
Police believe the use of sniffer dogs at festivals and music venues are a valuable safety resource to help prevent punters from causing damage to themselves or to others. But the use of sniffer dogs and police patrols have been criticised by researchers and privacy campaigners concerned over their use.
According to the ABC, a study conducted in Australia in 2009 found that “regular ecstasy users do not see detection dogs as an obstacle to their drug use,” while another study by a Melbourne-based researcher found that patrons at music festivals have adapted their behaviour to avoid sniffer dogs such as “storing their drugs internally in the canisters wrapped in condoms.”
Regardless of methodology, the friction between police attempting to stem the presence of drugs at music events seems to be one that will persist.