Drug Dogs Allow Cops to Search Almost Anyone They Want

Courts refuse to reconsider drug dogs, allowing cops to fabricate probable cause.

What makes this all so much more insidious is that the police are not necessarily trying to be corrupt and illegal. They bring in the drug dog because they have a hunch and have the right to use the dog. And the dog could, in theory, sniff out drugs or not. But dogs like to please their masters and if the police officer gives the dog any hints in his body language, then the dog will usually react. This gives the cop the freedom to search a person as if the dog had given independent testimony.

And if a police officer is corrupt, then he knows he has a passport to search anyone he wants for drugs.

The ones who should be stopping this are the judges, but they are refusing to do so.

Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post, “Federal appeals court: Drug dog that’s barely more accurate than a coin flip is good enough.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a troubling ruling about drug dogs last week. U.S. v. Bentley is just the latest in a series of rulings in which the federal courts refuse to consider the possibility that police departments may be manipulating the dogs to authorize unlawful searches — or at the very least that police agencies aren’t ensuring that the dogs are being trained to minimize the possibility, even though that would be easy to do.

The problem with drug-sniffing dogs is not that dogs aren’t capable of sniffing out drugs; it’s that we’ve bred into domestic dogs a trait that trumps that ability — a desire to read us and to please us. If a drug dog isn’t specifically trained to compensate for this, it will merely read its handler’s body language and confirm its handler’s suspicions about who is and isn’t hiding drugs. This has been confirmed by tests of K9 units that have shown that controlled tests designed to fool handlers are much more likely to trigger false alerts than controlled tests designed to fool the dogs. The fact that mine-sniffing dogs tend to be more accurate than their drug-sniffing cousins further illustrates the point — handlers not only have fewer preconceptions about where mines are located, but they also have an incredibly strong incentive for the dogs to be accurate about finding them. But even here, the dog-handler bond can become problematic, which is why some detection experts are turning to rats.

Like the scandal of the FBI inventing a fake science of hair identification, we have here a law enforcement procedure that pretends to be objective when it is not. It makes a mockery of the Fourth Amendment.