by Garret Ean
Oct 31 2012
An article in the Washington Post that has been widely syndicated discusses how the collection of evidence by the use of drug detector dogs will be considered by the united states supreme court. Two cases are pending on the docket, both from Florida, which question the effectiveness as well as the constitutionality of canines for drug detection use. The article cites studies from the University of California at Davis in which 18 police canine teams were sent through a facility and tasked with finding hidden drugs. Though there were no drugs in the facility, 17 of the teams reported alerts. Barry Cooper, former police officer and producer of the Never Get Busted educational film series has discussed his own manipulation of police canines while he was working as one of the most successful narcotics interdiction detectives. Anyone who has owned a dog knows that their life revolves around serving their pack leader. There are no objective standards or testing done of the animals to demonstrate their effectiveness. In a 2005 case, former supreme court judge David Souter stated that the infallible dog “is a creation of legal fiction”.
Last year, the Florida supreme court had thrown out a case from 2006 which featured questionable probable cause for a search after a police dog sniffed and acted playfully. Judge Barbara Pariente wrote:
Courts often accept the mythic dog with an almost superstitious faith…The myth so completely has dominated the judicial psyche in those cases that the courts either assume the reliability of the sniff or address the question cursorily; the dog is the clear and consistent winner.
The reliability of drug detector dogs will always be tainted by the bias of the canine’s handler. Drug interdiction officers often become personally interested in finding larger quantities of drugs. Though the dog is a simple animal, its social awareness is in some ways more attuned than that of a human. It detects the subtle body language of its handler, and its desire to please them is the likely cause of most false alerts. Bearing this in mind, it would make more sense to have the drug detector dogs handled by individuals who are not personally invested in the drug war and who seek recognition among their peers for how much contraband they can confiscate. Previous supreme court cases have held that officers do not even need reasonable suspicion of illegal drug possession to initiate a drug dog sniffing of a vehicle during a traffic stop. Thus, the dogs are used without any accountability metric aside from that officers wanted to use them.
Grants and requests for canine unit funding by police continue to be popular despite their expense and unproven track record. There should be no surprise there, as many people would jump at the chance to be employed to play with a cute animal and occasionally give it cars and purses to sniff.