Drug Policy

The Drug Warrior's Best Friend

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Back in 2005, when the U.S. Supreme Court said police officers may use drug-sniffing dogs at will during routine traffic stops, it assumed that such dogs can reliably detect and signal the presence or absence of contraband. But as one of the dissenters, Justice David Souter, noted, "the infallible dog…is a creature of legal fiction." Souter cited examples from court cases of dogs with error rates of up to 38 percent. A recent report in The Tampa Tribune suggests he was being generous:

Talon, who worked for the Palmetto Police Department, smelled drugs on every single vehicle during a four-month period and drugs were found less than half the time.

Circuit Judge Debra Johnes Riva said in a ruling that she had no choice but to throw out evidence in a drug case because of that track record.

Yet a different circuit judge later admitted evidence discovered in a car search that was based on an "alert" from Zuul, a dog with a track record very similar to Talon's. Local police were relieved by the latter ruling. The sergeant who oversees the K-9 division of the Sarasota sheriff's office told the Tribune that if other courts followed Riva's reasoning, it could be "catastrophic to the way we've been doing business." If Talon and Zuul are at all representative, the way they've been doing business is to search pretty much any vehicle they please, using the dogs' reactions as a cover for their hunches. Given the animals' accuracy, police might as well replace them with coins or magic eight balls. At least they'd save taxpayers some money.

[via The Drug War Chronicle]

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  1. I guess the sergant was worried that more judges would be questioning his department’s sheparding of drug enforcement.

  2. If somebody asks if you are a god… you. say. YES!

  3. I second what J Dilla said.

  4. Ideas? This morning a I got *off* the train, the SAPD had the sidewalk blocked off and forced us all to walk past a dog and a bunch of cops. Today wasn’t the right day to play but, when it is, what’s the script? I was thinking of something like, “I do not consent to walk past your dog, and hereby announce my intention to climb over your barrier.”. I would expect to get arrested and then what? Cited for trespassing?

  5. Reminds me of that horse that could add. Ask it what is five plus two and it would stomp its hoof seven times. Real story. Turns out that the owner was subconsciously giving it cues when to stop stomping. The horse could not count when the owner was not in sight.

    You a cop and want to search a car? Just send a subconscious signal to Fido, and he’ll give you that precious probably cause every time.

  6. “the way we’ve been doing business”

    Zackly.

  7. The catchphrase in the local paper is, “the officer, while approaching the car stopped for a minor traffic violation, smelled the strong odor of marijuana.” Is this the new probable cause catch-all?

  8. The sixth amendment

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    Any questions potheads.

  9. I have been saying for a long, long time that dog searches are bullshit. If you watch them do it you can tell very easily. ANYTHING the dog does is a “signal” that there’s drugs present thus justifying the search they want to do anyway. It’s just a scam. If the dog barks, cries, scratches itself, licks it’s nuts or ANYTHING else it’s a positive drug alert! Total bullshit.

  10. I find the following fascinating as well.

    Talon, who worked for the Palmetto Police Department, smelled drugs on every single vehicle during a four-month period and drugs were found less than half the time.

    How much less than half? The wording indicates more than a third. Are 40% of all motorists stopped by the Palmetto Police Department carrying illegal drugs? Or just 40% of those detained till the puppy got there. If it’s the latter, cop instinct ain’t all that fuckin’ hot either.

    What ther hell does that say about Joe Biden’s dumbass War on Drugs Liberty?

  11. I dunno. As Kwix noted, anyone who names their dog after a Ghostbusters demigod can’t be all bad.

  12. What it says, my dear J sub D, is that Biden and his friends are winning the War on Liberty.

  13. Brandybuck, I think you’re on to something but I also think it has something more to do with the dogs themselves.

    If the dogs that are used for this purpose by the police are anything like your average dog, they try to figure out what things they can do that will please their handlers the most. Once they’ve sussed that out, they proceed to do what gets them the most positive attention from their handlers. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that dogs that “find” drugs are heaped with praise by their cop handlers, whether consciously or not. This would lead me to believe that these dogs become conditioned to act in certain situations as though they have found something even if they have not in order to elicit the most possible praise. Careless handling/training of the dogs could certainly be a contributor to an inordinately high rate of false positives in drug searches.

    I find this line of reasoning persuasive also because most of the dogs used for these purposes are German Shepherds, who are both extremely clever and notoriously people-pleasing. Regardless of the reasons behind their unreliability this method of obtaining probable cause is seriously wrong.

  14. seething in Santa Ana | October 2, 2008, 8:17pm
    Ideas? This morning a I got *off* the train, the SAPD had the sidewalk blocked off and forced us all to walk past a dog and a bunch of cops.

    Another argument for public transportation.

    It’s much more efficient for the police to stop an entire train than dozens of cars.

  15. John and J sub D are right.

    think about how they train the dogs. They hide some drugs, and if the dog finds them, they reward the dog by playing with him.

    The dog is trying to please his pack leader. If, for example, the pack leader is pleased whenever the dog alerts on a black man, and only pleased if the dog alerts on a white man with marijuana, the dog is going to start to use skin color as a criteria for alerts.

    And, I seriously doubt that if the dog fails to alert on a lack of drugs that his handler is going to reward him.

    BTW, they’re starting such checkpoints in Boston too. Three times a week, I take the subway to Harvard Square in the afternoon. About once every two weeks, they have a squad of police deployed outside the turnstiles with some sergeant picking out commuters leaving the subway for searches.

    They have a state law that allows them to search bags for bombs and the like. People who don’t consent are required to get off of MBTA property. Of course, what sort of terrorist sneaks a bomb off of the subway and leaves?

    Obviously they are searching not for bombs but for contraband, enforcing one of the few Jim Crow laws left on the books.

  16. There is no 4th amendment, there is only Zuul.

  17. “Mate with me, subcreature.”

    -You’ve redecorated.

    “You want this body?”

    -Is this a trick question?

    “I want you inside me!”

    -Yeah, sure, why not?…No, I think you’ve got a few too many people in there already.

  18. And, I seriously doubt that if the dog fails to alert on a lack of drugs that his handler is going to reward him.

    A dog who fails to smell drugs is likely to be used for target practice for cops fearing for their lives.

  19. If somebody asks if you are a god… you. say. YES!

    spelled backwards…

  20. If I shot at everything my bird-dogs point at, I’d be in serious trouble with the law.

  21. Dogs in patrol vehicles are more about establishing probable cause where there isn’t any than finding drugs. In case you haven’t noticed, we don’t have many rights left. In evidence>>> http://tonycreed.com/taskforceraid.html

  22. Talon and Zuul need to get a rolled up newspaper across the nose when they give a false positive, not just liver snaps when they give a true positive. They’ll figure it out pretty fast.

  23. Zuul lives!…in an old refrigerator. NAZI is another 4 letter word for… a militarized, authority figure,… with a german shepard,.. who then asks you for “your papers”…then hauls you away… to a complex center for dangerous people…etc.The 4th lives too!..on paper somewhere…

  24. I’ve read about drug cartels being involved in the firms that breed and traing drug sniffing dogs….they then buy up the very best of the drug sniffing dogs and use them to pre-test their smuggling shipments.

    the whole thing is a joke… the drug dogs just catch the weak competition or the prison fodder

  25. Police dogs should be shot on sight.

    But the law treats shooting a police dog as equivalent to shooting a police man.

  26. Where are all the dogs searching for violations of the constitution?
    Woof!!!Woof!!! 6th amendment violation – no warrant, no probable cause.

  27. You just have to laugh at this stuff. As a man who has bred and trained literally hundreds of dogs I know just how bogus these claims are. The dog will “alert” when I want the dog to “alert”…no drugs needed.

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