Drug detection dogs are a common sight in Florida and across the country. Authorities may use them in schools, airports and traffic stops to detect drug crimes. The dogs are supposedly trained to recognize the smell of various drugs and alert their handlers to their presence. The signals of a drug detection dog may lead to a search and ultimate arrest. However, how reliable are these animals’ noses?
A recent report shows that certified drug detection dogs frequently get it wrong. In fact, it is not unusual for a drug dog to give a false alert to the presence of illegal substances more than half the time. A Florida police dog has a 53% record of false alerts. One dog on a police force in another state alerted 100% of the time its handler brought it to a traffic stop.
What a dog’s alert means for a driver
When a drug dog alerts to the presence of drugs in a vehicle during a traffic stop, police automatically have probable cause. This means they may search the vehicle without a warrant. In most states, police may seize and keep any assets under suspicion of involvement in the drug trade, including the vehicle itself.
The report reveals that drug detection dogs often get credit for finding drugs police already knew were there, such as when a motorist confesses to having a substance in the vehicle. In this way, the dogs build a false reputation for credibility. While many courts continue to uphold the integrity of using dogs to detect drug crimes, some courts are beginning to question the training methods and success rates of the animals.