Drug Sniffing Dogs Usually Wrong

Photo: Andromeda321 (CC)

Photo: Andromeda321 (CC)

I’m not a criminal defense lawyer, but if I was I think I’d be all over this story, especially if I had Hispanic clients. If the dogs are usually wrong, how can there be probable cause for a search? Dan Hinkel and Joe Mahr report for the Chicago Tribune:

Drug-sniffing dogs can give police probable cause to root through cars by the roadside, but state data show the dogs have been wrong more often than they have been right about whether vehicles contain drugs or paraphernalia.

The dogs are trained to dig or sit when they smell drugs, which triggers automobile searches. But a Tribune analysis of three years of data for suburban departments found that only 44 percent of those alerts by the dogs led to the discovery of drugs or paraphernalia.

For Hispanic drivers, the success rate was just 27 percent.

Dog-handling officers and trainers argue the canine teams’ accuracy shouldn’t be measured in the number of alerts that turn up drugs. They said the scent of drugs or paraphernalia can linger in a car after drugs are used or sold, and the dogs’ noses are so sensitive they can pick up residue from drugs that can no longer be found in a car.

But even advocates for the use of drug-sniffing dogs agree with experts who say many dog-and-officer teams are poorly trained and prone to false alerts that lead to unjustified searches. Leading a dog around a car too many times or spending too long examining a vehicle, for example, can cause a dog to give a signal for drugs where there are none, experts said.

“If you don’t train, you can’t be confident in your dog,” said Alex Rothacker, a trainer who works with dozens of local drug-sniffing dogs. “A lot of dogs don’t train. A lot of dogs aren’t good.”

The dog teams are not held to any statutory standard of performance in Illinois or most other states, experts and dog handlers said, though private groups offer certification for the canines.

Civil rights advocates and Latino activists say the findings support complaints that police unfairly target Hispanic drivers for invasive and embarrassing roadside vehicle searches.

“We know that there is a level of racial profiling going on, and this is just another indicator of that,” said Virginia Martinez, a Chicago-based staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund…

[continues in the Chicago Tribune]

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  • Lexar68

    This is not the dogs this is the police and the trainers, they claim that the dog “hit” on your vehicle when he didn’t, and use it to search a vehicle they find suspicious. It’s happened to me. The fact that it happens more to Hispanics just reinforces my belief in what is going on, people react based on race, not animals.

  • Lexar68

    This is not the dogs this is the police and the trainers, they claim that the dog “hit” on your vehicle when he didn’t, and use it to search a vehicle they find suspicious. It’s happened to me. The fact that it happens more to Hispanics just reinforces my belief in what is going on, people react based on race, not animals.