Passing The Smell Test

Detection dogs are an increasing aspect of, “Law Enforcement” formerly known as policing, in our country. They roam our schools, our places of work, and potentially our very homes. encourages parents to hire a dog from them to search the family home for their children’s drugs. They go so far as to post this on their web site:

“It is essential that our parents understand that they’re the child’s most important teacher and that the message must be unequivocal: don’t use drugs.”

—President of the United States

They don’t specify which president said that.

The accuracy of the dogs has been called into question numerous times in both court and the media. Some states are beginning to push for laws governing one of law enforcement’s biggest accusers, dogs. The Supreme Court will rule this summer whether K9s can be brought to the front door of peoples’ houses to determine if the person possesses contraband. Most people understand that this special relationship between dog and handler is a suspicious one. Handlers have been accused of cueing these animals. This video by Barry Cooper of Nevergetbusted shows just how far some of these handlers will go.


Pator Steve Anderson


Defense attorney: “Okay Jerry is that the dog?”
Border Patrol agent: “Yes sir.”
Defense attorney: “The dog (Jerry) is trained to detect concealed and non concealed human beings within the vehicle?”
Border Patrol agent: “No sir that’s not what I said.”
Defense: “Okay could you help me understand that.”
Agent: “I said the dog is trained to find concealed people and the odor of narcotics.”
Defense: “How does the dog determine by sniffing whether or not the odor of the human that the dog is detecting is of a concealed person or of a non concealed person.
Agent: “Umm through training…we just understand that’s how the dog does it. We don’t know how the dog actually knows the difference, but they do.

This is a transcription I made from the Pastor Steve Anderson trial. He had been driving along I-8 which runs parallel to the US Mexico Border. It is located about 70 miles north of the border but is called a border checkpoint. This man had his windows in his car broken out, was tased, and had his face ground into shards of glass on ground while the BP agents “tuned him up.”  He hadn’t been wanted for murder or rape. His charge was made by a “Sniffer Dog” who alleged he was in possession of either drugs, explosives, or concealed humans. After the beating and search, he was found to have possessed none of these. The first case against Mr. Anderson was dismissed by the judge and in the second case a jury acquitted this man of essentially 2 charges of impeding traffic.

Florida vs. Jardines is a case to be decided by the US Supreme Court this summer. According to SCOTUSblog, Police were “tipped off” anonymously through crimestoppers that a man had marijuana growing in his home. The dog alerted at the front door and a judge signed a warrant based upon that sniff. In previous SCOTUS opinions allowing sniffs at traffic stops, dissenting Justices agree that for this type of dependence on dog sniffs, the dogs would need to be infallible, which isn’t the case.

Many police departments do not keep accuracy records for dog sniffs. Training and standards can vary from municipality to municipality. The (2)Chicago Tribune did an expose in January of 2011 citing just how accurate, or in this case inaccurate, detection dogs in their area are. Their “analysis of three years of data for suburban departments found that only 44 percent of those alerts by the dogs led to the discovery of drugs or paraphernalia. For Hispanic drivers, the success rate was just 27 percent.” With those numbers, logic would dictate that to increase accuracy, the police would take a dog indication for contraband as potentially exculpatory and let the driver of the car indicated go without further suspicion. Unfortunately this isn’t the case.

Police will say that the searches that don’t turn up contraband are the result of residue being in the car from drugs previously being there. According to CNN, 90% of US dollar bills contain cocaine residue.  It is reasonable to believe that 9 out of every 10 Americans could be subject to a search based solely on what the previous owner of our car did or based upon which dollar bills were given to us at the grocery store.

What an interesting conversation it would be to have with our founding fathers. Trying to convince them that these operations involved in this drug war are appropriate. Trying to convince them that we send heavily armed soldiers to break into private residences. They are sent into homes based on the suspicion of a dog that may be less accurate than a groundhog’s prediction of spring’s arrival. Fortunately for my household, Miller Lite and Folgers are our drugs of choice.

I intended on including the detection dog accuracy logs of 2 of my local police entities. They have both resisted my anonymous requests but have sparked my interest with their resistance and I’ll be writing a follow up soon.

In Liberty


Pastor Anderson full trial links:
(2)Chicago Tribune Article:
(3)CNN Article: