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Canine Crackdown: Unreliable Drug Sniffs Threaten Civil Liberties and Equal Law Enforcement


This paper explores the history of drug detection dogs in law enforcement, critically examines their ability to successfully detect illicit substances, and investigates the legal repercussions of dog alerts in the field. While drug dog programs have experienced substantial success in the U.S. with annual drug seizures valued between $2 and $3 billion, experiments on police-trained dogs have shown that though canines have incredible sensitivity in controlled settings, other factors including the breed of the dog, handler bias, and even the race of the suspect have been shown to significantly reduce a dog’s detection accuracy. These reports raise serious questions about the efficacy of drug detecting dogs, and if a dog alert should generate probable cause for a search or seizure of property that is otherwise protected under the Fourth Amendment. In particular, the threat of racial discriminatory practices raises the concern that dogs can be used to inappropriately extend law enforcement authority against ethnic minorities. Though these canines must complete a rigorous training course in order to search for narcotics, police are not required to keep careful records of their dogs’ performances on drug detection. As exemplified by a successful investigation and the subsequent removal of the ineffective drug detection dog program in New South Wales, this article calls the U.S. to similarly investigate the accuracy of its drug sniffs in order to protect its citizens from seemingly unreliable dog alerts and the warantless searches and seizures that follow.

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