Have our civil liberties gone to the dogs? I think so.
Like many other Americans, I enjoy the company of my dogs and think dogs are wonderful companion animals. Our dogs have many functions in todays’ society and play an important role in peoples’ lives as therapy animals, protectors, service providers, and friends.
Dogs also help law enforcement as part of K-9 units, alerting their human partners to illegal items or substances that officers might not otherwise smell, see, or hear. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a drug dog's alert is enough to establish probable cause for a warrantless search of a vehicle. In other words, based solely on the dog’s alert, an officer then can search a car or other property without a search warrant and can seize personal property such as cash or jewelry whether they actually find drugs.
On June 26, 2012, a group of Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP) troopers and a retired police sergeant filed a racketeering complaint against the NHP and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police in U.S. District Court. The complaint alleges that after a K-9 program was approved to target drug runners on Nevada's highways, a Nevada Highway Patrol Commander intentionally trained the dogs to provide false alerts for the presence of drugs.
In 2010, University of California, Davis studied 18 drug sniffing police dogs and their handlers. The study found that K-9 teams searching for drug scents incorrectly “‘alerted,’ or identified a scent, when there was no scent present more than 200 times — particularly when the handler believed that there was scent present.” In early 2011, the Chicago Tribune published a three year study of drug searches by drug sniffing dogs. According to the study, drug sniffing dogs correctly detected the presence or absence of drugs 44% of the time. That percentage dropped to 27% when the driver being searched was Hispanic.
When a dog’s alert is being used as reasonable grounds for a search, allowing officers to sidestep the need for a search warrant, this room for error – either intentionally incorrect training or unintential canine alerts – violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure. There is no standard level of training involved for the dogs and their handlers, and human error must be factored into the equation.
I love dogs, but I believe that handing the Fourth Amendment and my civil liberties over to mans’ best friend is just doggone wrong.