Drug War

A Drug-Sniffing Coin Would Be Cheaper

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As Radley Balko noted this morning, a recent Chicago Tribune investigation found that drug-sniffing dogs used in traffic stops by Illinois police departments were wrong more often than they were right. In 56 percent of the cases where the dogs "alerted" to cars, police found no drugs or drug paraphernalia. The dogs' defenders say they may be detecting traces of drugs that used to be in the cars, but even they concede that is not the whole story. As detailed in the Tribune article, poor training of dogs and their handlers, coupled with cops' unconscious signals to the animals, seems to account for a large portion of these fruitless searches. "The dogs are only as good as the handlers," one expert tells the Tribune. A Republican state legislator (and former prosecutor) who wants to create certification standards for drug-detecting dogs calls them "probable cause with four legs."

That's because the Supreme Court has said a dog sniff, though it does not qualify as a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, can be used to justify a physical inspection that does. In the case of a traffic stop, that means detaining a motorist for a half-hour or more while cops pull apart his car, looking in the trunk and the glove compartment, checking under the rugs, digging into the seats, going through bags, and attempting to locate hidden compartments. This is a pretty inconvenient, time-consuming, privacy-invading, and humiliating ordeal to impose on someone if the only basis is a tip from an animal who is usually unreliable.

The Supreme Court's decisions in this area assume otherwise. "A dog sniff conducted during a concededly lawful traffic stop that reveals no information other than the location of a substance that no individual has any right to possess does not violate the Fourth Amendment," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens for the majority in Illinois v. Caballes, a 2005 decision upholding the use of drug-detecting dogs during routine traffic stops. That decision built on United States v. Place, a 1983 ruling that said "subjecting luggage to a 'sniff test' by a well-trained narcotics detection dog does not constitute a 'search' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment" because it "discloses only the presence or absence of narcotics, a contraband item."

These decisions assume that dogs are furry machines that virtually never malfunction, indicating the presence or absence of drugs with something like 100 percent accuracy. But as Justice David Souter, one of the two dissenters in Caballes, pointed out, "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. "Dogs in artificial testing situations return false positives anywhere from 12.5 to 60% of the time," he added. The Chicago Tribune study provides further evidence that Place and Caballes are based on a myth. The Supreme Court is allowing police to search people's luggage and vehicles based on a probable cause generator that may be wrong most of the time.

I discussed Caballes in a 2005 column. Julian Sanchez teased out some of its implications in a 2007 Reason cover story. More on the myth of the infallible police dog here and here.

NEXT: More on the Botched Drug Raid in Massachusetts

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  1. See this dog? I call him Probable Cause. “Probe” for short.

    1. “coupled with cops’ unconscious signals to the animals, seems to account for a large portion of these fruitless searches”

      It’s like he’s Winston Smith, trying to get the information out past Big Brothers other censors.

      Article by Winston Smith
      The police carry “drug detectors” that will beep if you shake and jostle it the right way. Many times when an officer does this, the search turns out to be a false alarm.

      Isn’t it unfortunate that these unconscious actions waste The People’s resources? All Hail Big Brother. I love Big Brother. Really I do.

    2. Yo, be not unresponsive:

      “If we are tense, the device doesn’t work correctly. I start slow, and relax my body, and I try to clear my mind.”

    3. My dog’s name was Unreasonable Search and Seizure.

  2. So, if the canine nose was infallible, we would say the searches are constitutional?

    1. Yes, but since no living organism is infallible, we will never get to that point.

      1. Oh, I think our Elected Government Officials? can find a way to “get to that point.”

        I have less faith in them than you do, evidently…

  3. This is all good to know, now what? Can a case be brought to the SCOTUS with this new “evidence” and break the precedent already set? Or are we just now knowingly frustrated that we’d have better chances of not being erroneously searched if only a coin flip was used, or if searches were only conducted on even-numbered days of the month?

  4. i wonder what would have destroyed the fourth amendment if the drug war hadn’t.

  5. A Drug-Sniffing Coin Would Be Cheaper[…]

    But… But… but dogs do detect Terminators with good accuracy, don’t they???

    1. The 600 series had rubber skin. We spotted them easy, but these are new. They look human – sweat, bad breath, everything. Very hard to spot. I had to wait ’till he moved on you before I could zero him.

        1. Is this supposed to be an insult? You are the most impotent stalker ever. It’s actually embarrassing me; I’d hope to have a more competent stalker, such as Warty.

      1. Say, was there ever a porn knock-off of The Terminator called The Sperminator? Seems like there should have been.

        And, for the love of God, don’t tell me to google it.

        1. The Penetrator. Yes, it’s out there.

        2. The Penetrator. Yes, it’s out there.

          1. Thanks, but that wasn’t my question.

            1. I mean, my title is better because sperm rhymes with term. The entire porn industry is somehow cheapened by its failure to see this.

              Or not, if it’s been done.

              1. Bareback is taboo, which is what your title suggests. Shame on you.

              2. I think The Simpsons had a gag prono movie called The Sperminator.

                But again, that’s not what you’re asking.

            2. You had a question?

              1. I did, but I can’t remember what it was.

        3. No; I’ll tell you to search IMDb instead.

          Just make certain you select the option to include adult titles in your searches.

          1. Thanks. I’m somehow relieved.

  6. So a chain-smoker with allergies could sniff out drugs more accurately than the dogs? Not smelling anything would make him right 56% of the time (using the same sample).

    1. Yes, but I think you’ll find that cops have a very different view about Type I vs. Type II errors. If it takes nine innocents searched to find one guilty people, hey, they don’t think that a search that doesn’t find anything is all that bad or really a punishment at all.

  7. Dog = CI (canine informant)

  8. “The dogs’ defenders say they may be detecting traces of drugs that used to be in the cars,…”
    Like the woos that Randi busts, there’s *always* an excuse.

    1. That’s not an excuse. The dogs may very well be detecting drugs that used to be in the cars.

      1. The same way my memory is always detecting the money that I used to have in my wallet.

  9. I’d be fine with drug sniffing unicorns.

  10. What we need are talking dogs. That way we can get a clear signal from them, and we’ll know for sure that they’re detecting drugs, not that they’re licking their own ass because it tastes good.

    1. No, what we need is to force all drug manufacturers to make their drugs out of squirrels.

  11. I know how we can solve this problem.

  12. One possible reason for their inaccuracy is the *human* working with the dog.

    In 2001 (pre 9/11) I went through customs after a stopover in Amsterdam on my way home from India (no pot used during the trip). The dogs wanted to walk past me, but the official made it *look* like the dogs sniffed me.

    They went on to search my luggage and do an invasive pat-down and found nothing b/c there was nothing to be found. The dogs knew it. The humans didn’t.

    1. Maybe we should switch to divining rods to detect drugs since the same principle seems to be at work here.

  13. After 9/11 the Washington State Ferry system started using “drug sniffing” dogs in the ferry lines. Because heroin and pot trafficking from Seattle to Bainbridge Island went up 7,000% after 9/11– or something.

    Anyhoo, about a week ago I’m waiting for the ferry, there’s the drug/bomb/stuff sniffing dog going through the lines of cars when another WSP officer comes up to my car, raps on the window. I lower it and he holds up a small rubber contraption filled with ‘something’ and asks me if he can place this on my car for dog ‘training’. I said sure. He placed the object somewhere behind my spare tire and a few minutes later the dog came up to the car, didn’t seem to act any differently than he did on the other cars, but the officer seemed to keep him there longer, pointing to different places on the rear of my truck. The dog again, didn’t seem to have any notable reaction that my untrained eyes could see. He went on to the next car. The WSP officer removed the object from my car and that was that… as they say.

    1. I saw one the other day sit down next to a car. The cop stayed there for a second, then moved the dog down the line and back up again. The dog didn’t sit at that same car again.

      I thought I heard somewhere that you have to train dogs for bombs OR drugs, but you can’t do both. Is that true? I guess if they’re right half the time you can train them for both and then they’re right all the time, right?

      1. I dunno. It seems counterintitive to me that you couldn’t train them to recognize more than one scent signature, but I know about as much about drug/bomb sniffing canines as I do about drugs and bombs.

        1. Just keep them away from barrels of creosote. That’s all I know.

          1. Right, or they’ll have to back track and you can lose a lot of time. You’ll have to pay your helpers an extra half-crown each.

            1. Oi!

    2. I saw one the other day sit down next to a car. The cop stayed there for a second, then moved the dog down the line and back up again. The dog didn’t sit at that same car again.

      I thought I heard somewhere that you have to train dogs for bombs OR drugs, but you can’t do both. Is that true? I guess if they’re right half the time you can train them for both and then they’re right all the time, right?

      1. Nice double post, boner.

        Are they really doing dogs on the Bainbridge ferry? WTF?!? I mean, it’s retarded, but I could see them wanting to do it on the Victoria ferry, but fucking Bainbridge?

        1. That was Kingston. I don’t do Braindead.

          My submit key is flaky for some reason, assnut.

          1. OK, then consider my question directed at Paul. The insult is still for you, though, turdnugget.

            1. Thank you for thinking of me, cuntball.

              1. My pleasure, nutsnuggler.

              2. “cuntball”?

                *writing in notebook*

        2. Bainbridge, Bremerton, Kingston/Edmonds… I haven’t seen one on Vashon (the one run where they probably do need bomb/drug sniffing dogs).

          I’m also guessing they don’t do the other more obscure routes such as Whidbey etc.

          1. Just spitballing, but it’s possible they do the Bainbridge ferry because it’s connected to the same parking lot as the Bremerton ferry which, as you know, are right downtown.

            1. Yeah, it’s just that I haven’t taken the ferry in quite some time and had no idea they were doing this shit.

              1. It’s pretty random; I don’t see them out there every day. But it’s not like I feel any safer when I do see them out there.

              2. Have you seen the coast guard skiff escorts with twin m60s?

                1. Guarding against what, a horde of invading Canadian?

                2. I know, right? What are they going to do?

                  Reminds me of the story years ago about the zookeeper in Poland who was being mauled by a tiger…and they shot the zookeeper.

                  1. Maybe they’re there to execute Plan 640K–when Bill Gates orders the death of every person in Seattle who uses more than 640K of RAM.

                  2. Terrah! Everyone went apeshit after 9/11 and as a result, we’ve militarized our entire world and I’m surprised at how few people notice.

                    And the whole thing is bullshit. Those coastguard boat drivers are just having fun doing jumps off the ferry wake. Here they are, my brothahs: http://www.corbisimages.com/im…..756499.jpg

                    1. Terrorists don’t give a shit about Seattle. I bet they haven’t even heard of it. When I was in Malaysia, the only cities anyone had heard of were Chicago (“Bang, bang!”), New York, Washington, and Disney World.

                    2. Well, this guy had heard of Seattle.

                      The problem is, like almost every terrorst since 9/11, we are protected by the fact that they don’t have working synapses.

                    3. Sounds like he was going to blow up stuff in LA. Nobody wants to blow up Seattle, except maybe people who hate Starbucks.

                    4. But Mayor Paul “Enjoy your only term, sir” Schell believed he was, so he canceled New Years.

                    5. Let me just add this… Paul Schell was so bad, we thought Greg Nickels was an improvement!

                    6. Chicago, New York, Washington, and Disney World.

                      That would be, respectively, Main Street, Adventureland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, right?

                3. I had actually heard about the skiffs, yes. Fucking. Ridiculous.

                  1. You mean that my joke about Bill Gates is actually true? And his assassins have skiffs? My God.

  14. The solution is quite simple. See, drug-sniffing dogs don’t care about drugs, because they aren’t addicted to them. Make the dogs into drug addicts, then have them seek out the drugs to which they are addicted with their mighty noses. I guarantee better results. Much better.

    1. That’s actually an interesting idea.

    2. That still doesn’t get us anywhere with weed though. You’d need to give the dog a bad job and a bitchy wife for him to want to find pot.

  15. I don’t know, I don’t see anything wrong with waiving my rights based on the actions of an animal that will eat the shit of other animals.

    1. You can say that again.

    2. …an animal that will eat the shit of other animals.

      You mean, a Congressional Aide?

  16. I don’t know, I don’t see anything wrong with waiving my rights based on the actions of an animal that will eat the shit of other animals.

  17. While I’m posting here, I’ve got something I want Reason to investigate. Who is the Techno Viking? In this age of total information, I’m absolutely stunned that he doesn’t have his own reality show yet.

    In deference to the single commenters, I’m willing to wait for this information until after Reason uncovers the identity of the Lobster Girl, who, as I understand it, will become the mascot of the publication once she’s found.

    1. My guess is that he’s a member of the Legion of Substitute Heroes…

      1. You think? His total disappearance and apparent ability to command crowds makes him seem more powerful than that.

        1. Perhaps he disappeared because he hooked up with Lobster Girl.

          1. This is possibly the best possible explanation in a world of best explanations.

          2. We do live in the best of all possible worlds, so that is the correct answer.

    2. That’s so weird… I was thinking about that very thing the other night… who is Techno Viking and why hasnt’ he been extensively interviewed by the media?

      I mean, Jesus Christ, Joe the Plumber made a passing controversial remark to some politician pressing the flesh outside his house and within three days we had all of his medical records, tax and credit history.

      1. Well, everyone’s been so wrapped up trying to figure out who’s The Coon…there just hasn’t been much time.

        1. What about Mysterion?

          1. Isn’t he dead?

            Well FUCK ME! He’s NOT!

      2. It’s actually the greatest question of our time. Even greater than the question of evil.

        I mean, we’ve got a homeless guy with a radio voice who is now doing voiceovers and announcing. Yet the Techno Viking, who could become prime minister of Russia if he wanted the job, is nowhere to be found.

  18. Imagine if humans had a dog’s sense of smell.

    (sniffs air) “Bob was here!”
    (Sniffs air, raises eyebrows) “he had Becky with him!”
    (sniff, smiles) “but nothing happened!”

    1. If humans had a dog’s sense of smell, we’d be sniffing each other’s butts.

      No thank you.

      1. Because sucking each others cocks is so much more libtardian.

  19. I don’t know, I don’t see anything wrong with waiving my rights based on the actions of an animal that will eat the shit of other animals.

    Hey, MNG’s votes on election day count just as much as yours.

  20. a ‘sniff test’ by a well-trained narcotics detection dog does not constitute a ‘search’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment” because it “discloses only the presence or absence of narcotics, a contraband item.”

    Is it me, or is that just gibberish? They seem to be saying that something is not a search if it will result only in the discovery of contraband.

    So, its not a search for 4A purposes if it finds contraband? Aren’t they really saying that only innocent people have Constitutional rights?

    Why wouldn’t this argument justify any warrantless search, so long as it found contraband?

    1. Dude, they’re heading there.

    2. It’s been a while since Criminal Procedure, but isn’t there supposed to be some probable something before a search? Probable effect? Probable assumed guilt? What do they call it?

        1. That’s it! Thanks.

      1. Unfortunately, I suspect the dog is a legal extension of the bullsh*t theory called “open fields”. i.e. If you can see it in an open field as you walk by, then you don’t need “probable cause” since you’ve already observed it… or the dog has signaled you that he has observed / smelled it in this case.

        Somehow this is all related, I suspect, to the bs reported here a few weeks ago about going into barber shops for administrative searches, and then using what is seen there for criminal searches.

        Bad laws and bad legal reasoning beget just more bad laws and bad legal reasoning.

    3. “”Is it me, or is that just gibberish? They seem to be saying that something is not a search if it will result only in the discovery of contraband.””

      I agree it’s gibberish. Isn’t using a dog akin to using an infared device? Either way you are using a device to detect something that would otherwise require a warrant to find. No?

  21. Ooo, I see there’s going to be a Friday Funnies tomorrow. It’s like Christmas in January.

    I hope it’s about Cash4Clunkers.

    1. The Friday Funnies are apparently related the Phoenix or something – you think they’re dead, and then they just keep coming back

  22. I heard the drug warriors originally started with drug-sniffing snakes, but decided the disadvantages (mostly PC) outweighed the advantages.

    1. After Sam Jackson starting yelling “Get these motherfucking snakes out of my motherfucking car” the whole plan was dropped.

  23. Say a K9 indicates to his handler that a car has drugs in it, but after the search they don’t find drugs but do find an illegal firearm. Then they arrest the owner of the car. Case of unreasonable search?

    1. As long as they shoot the dog with the *found* firearm, it’s a legal search

  24. Dogs can differentiate between thousands of smell. However, you it is best if you train the dog to alert to only one. If you have multiple alerts, the dog will generalize and start alerting on everything.

    Add to fact that more than a few (possibly many, but I wouldn’t say most) police handlers are idiots and think their dog is an extension of their penis. That’s why there are no women police dog handlers.

    I’ve have seen trained dogs do amazing things. It’s boggling that anyone thinks they be used as legal evidence of anything other than determining if bitch is in heat.

    1. A diabetic friend has a dog who alerts on out-of-normal-band bloodsugars. ‘Course, these alerts are always checked with glucometer.

  25. OK, a drug-sniffing coin may be less expensive – BUT – a drug-sniffing coin can’t lick its own balls/anus/vajayjay.

    So dogs do have that going for them.

  26. We’re clear that this isn’t the same as flipping a coin for each car, right? I mean, unless the total rate of cars with drugs in them exceeds 46%, which seems unlikely.

    1. Yeah. The coin thing is a cute comment, but we only know the percentage of the times the dogs were right about there being drugs, not the percentage of times the dogs were right about there not being drugs, so we can’t really say much about their overall accuracy.

      I guess if the dog didn’t find anything, police could ask suspects if they would consent to a search anyway as part of a scientific experiment to measure the accuracy of dog searches. I suspect self-selection in their sample would make the results useless, however.

      1. The coin thing is silly, manually searching 50% of all cars stopped isn’t going to be cheaper.

    2. depends on how we’re soon defining drugs (four loko, coca cola (if there’s kids in the car), foie gras, transfat, etc)

  27. Look at that big, stupid, disgusting tongue.

  28. The quote from Stevens says it all: “A dog sniff conducted during a concededly lawful traffic stop that reveals no information other than the location of a substance that no individual has any right to possess does not violate the Fourth Amendment”

    Not to distract from the accuracy of drug gods, er, dogs discussion, but once you accept Stevens’ notion about “no legal right to possess” it’s not a very long walk to justifying any means necessary by the government to enforce these restrictions.

  29. Thanks for another reminder of what a useless douchebag Stevens is.

    -jcr

    1. And what about paleo-fav Clarence Thomas, the “most libertarian justice on the SCOTUS,” who joined the Stevens opinion? Actually all of the Court’s “conservatives” did. The two dissenters were Souter and Ginsburg. BTW-in Place the two most liberal justices ever concurred disagreeing that the sniff is not a search.

      1. Thomas is a conservative, not a libertarian, IMHO.

      2. Not all the conservatives joined Stevens. Rehnquist did not take part in this decision.

  30. I do have the right to possess any godamn plant material I want to possess you fucking tyrannical mother fuckers. I don’t have the power, but don’t think for one second your black robes allow you to define my rights.

    1. “Natural rights” raises it’s inconvenient head again.

      Damn that Madison and those liberty-minded, age of enlightenment thinkers!

  31. Cocaine’s a hell of a drug.

  32. The coin analogy is inaccurate. A coin would select 50% of those stopped. The number of cars with drugs is presumably much less than 50%, or the cops would be overwhelmed. The dogs are incorrect for more than 50% of those they react to, but are correct (by not reacting) with the large majority of non-drug-carrying cars.

    I recognize the other problems with a search that isn’t a “search,” but the headline is wrong.

  33. Meanwhile David Frum points the finger at mary j.
    http://tinyurl.com/22uuv2u is he being funny?

  34. Someone doesn’t understand math.

    Pretend you have 200 cars. Flipping a coin, you would expect to have 100 searched.

    On a dog with a “56% false positive rate”, the dog would flag TWO cars for search.

    Proof once again that “Reason” ought to teach their writers some basic elementary-school math.

  35. One more reason why I don’t own a car in Chicago.

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