Back in February, I came across an interesting piece about police dogs.
Most folks believe, as I did then, that dogs are very good at sniffing out explosives and drugs. Researcher Lisa Lit and her colleagues at the University of California, Davis decided to put that belief to the test and what they found was, to me, pretty disturbing.
Dr. Lit had 18 dog handlers and their canines run through two sets of four short searches in the rooms of a church that was free of any drug or explosive scents but in which the researchers placed decoy scents of unwrapped sausage. The handlers were told that search areas might contain up to three scents and that some of the target scents would be marked with a piece of red paper.
Of 144 searches, in only 21 were there no alerts by the dogs which means that even though there were zero explosive or drug scents in the search rooms, the dogs reacted a total of 225 times in 123 searches!
In some cases, the dogs reacted to the sausage scent, but almost twice as often — 32 out of 36 times — the dogs detected drugs or explosives where there was a piece of red paper. That means the dogs were not reacting to any scent but were reacting to their handler’s anticipation of them detecting a scent!
What does this mean in the real world?
To me, it means that dogs, who have evolved the ability to sense their owner’s moods and body language, are often, perhaps most often, trying to please their handlers when they “detect” something at a traffic stop and in other situations. The dog’s “reaction” provides police with probable cause to perform searches. But a Chicago Tribune analysis revealed that more than half the time, the dog’s alert is false.
That means that more than half of all such dog-initiated searches expose citizens to intrusive, time-consuming searches for no reason at all, which seems to me to fit the definition of the kind of “unreasonable searches” mentioned in the Fourth Amendment. And it was worse for Hispanics who were subjected to improper searches 73% of the time!
This lunacy is, of course, made possible by our nation’s absurd preoccupation with what other people choose to ingest or do to themselves. We’ve spent trillions trying to stop people from using drugs they clearly want to use and incarcerating them when we catch them. Worse, we enable vicious criminals to produce and sell the drugs, then shake our heads at the murders, the robberies — the whole quagmire of associated crime, none of which would exist if we left our citizens free to choose their drugs as they choose their booze.
The Law Enforcement, Judiciary, Lawyer, and Prison System Full Employment Act that is our drug laws has probably destroyed far more more lives than all the currently illegal drugs combined.
When the hell are we going to wake up and put an end to it?