Police in Aberdeen, Scotland, have given the world a taste of a grim and highly invasive future after implementing a new drug control policy on club-going youth. Police in the city randomly swabbed the hands of club-goers for traces of illegal substances over the weekend, with those who failed to pass subject to search and potential arrest.
The new policy comes despite a backlash in recent years against the heavy-handed practices involving citizen searches.
Prior to the new swab policy, Scottish police had come under heavy criticism for their stop-and-search practices, which were being implemented without statutory authority and even saw children under 12 being subject to search. A review of the stop and search policy has resulted in codification of the practice, specifying conditions under which a search can be conducted.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said that police would not be allowed to do stop-and-search unless they had “reasonable grounds” to believe a crime was being committed. The wording parallels that of New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy, which is based on the standard of “reasonable suspicion.” This standard requires less justification than that of probable cause.
In order to conduct the swab surveys, swabs are placed in a sniffer device which is able to detect if a person has handled drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin. Any individuals refusing the test were to be denied entrance to the establishment being monitored.
Even those who support anti-drug policy criticize the move, stating that innocent club-goers would likely wish to avoid any businesses with sniffer dogs and CCTV vans parked out front, as potential trouble spots.
Police point to Aberdeen’s achievement of Purple Flag status in 2013 as being a result of stop-and-swab. The award is issued for cities that have achieved excellence in night-life safety.
Scottish Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie spoke out against the stop-and-swab tactic, “Carrying out such tests without suspicion of a crime is a heavy handed and indiscriminate tactic by the police. It’s why we stood firmly against industrial scale stop-and-search. Police Scotland need to review this tactic and explain how this helps address drug-taking.”