Lawsuit Challenges Effectiveness of Drug- and Bomb-Sniffing Police Dogs

Canines used by police to sniff out drugs and explosives may not be as reliable as their law enforcement masters claim.

Two Nevada Highway Patrol K-9 troopers and a consultant are suing Las Vegas’ police department, arguing that the dogs’ handlers often influence their dogs into detecting something that’s not really there.

The case could have profound implications for law enforcement, which has been allowed to search vehicles without a warrant as long as police dogs give officers probable cause to investigate. Lawrence Myers, an Auburn University professor who specializes in studying police dogs, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that, in many cases, law enforcement officers use the dogs as “a search warrant on a leash.”

One piece of evidence that may come up in the civil trial involves a study performed by a team of researchers at the University of California, Davis. The researchers assembled 18 police dogs and their handlers and told them to go through a room and find any hidden drugs and explosives. Each dog and handler was given eight runs through the room.

The room was clean, and yet the dogs claimed to locate a bomb or narcotics 85% of the time.

The dogs’ handlers, according to researchers, kept influencing the animals’ decisions that an illegal substance or object was actually there.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

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