Study Reveals Drug Dogs Are Unreliable for “Probable Cause”

A lawsuit filed against the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department claims that drug dogs are little more than “trick ponies” used to legitimize the seizure of property from innocent victims. A 2010 study conducted by UC Davis is central to the lawsuit, as it indicated that drug dogs failed 85% percent of the time. In the study, 18 drug dogs and their handlers were asked to sniff out the drugs and bombs in a particular room. One hundred and twenty-three times out of 144, the drug dogs indicated that there were drugs or bombs. There weren’t any. Researchers concluded that the unreliability of the drug dogs was not the fault of the dogs, but of their handlers. Handlers gave the dogs cues that swayed their objectivity and resulted in “false positives.”

This is very troubling indeed considering that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that an indication of “detection” by drug dogs is sufficient probable cause for a search or seizure. But if the dogs are responding more to their handlers’ cues rather than the presence of drugs or bombs, this means they become powerful tools for local law enforcement to use to regularly violate your Fourth Amendment rights. That is the gist of the lawsuit (filed by two Nevada Highway Patrol K-9 troopers) against the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

The claimants say they were subjected to harassment and intimidation because they refused to use their dogs to seize money from Nevada motorists. The lawsuit claims that Nevada drug dogs are not much more than legal covers for what amounts to racketeering: motorists are pulled over, drug dogs are cued to give false positives for drugs, troopers then seize money or property “related to criminal activity.” This seizure is protected under most state and federal forfeiture laws.

I hope this lawsuit draws attention to an increasing problem in the United States. We already have the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world. And every day, more and more stories are surfacing about police corruption and abuses of power. With the Department of Homeland Security buying up ammo and armored vehicles, it seems that our civil authorities are becoming more and more antagonistic toward you and your constitutionally-protected rights. I am thankful for the police out there who still believe it’s their job to protect and serve. But I fear their numbers may be too small to make a difference at this point.