More on the unreliability of dog sniff searches

Australia: Sniffer dogs get it wrong four out of five times

A RECORD 80 per cent of sniffer dog searches for drugs resulted in ”false positives” this year, figures show.

The figures obtained from the state government in response to parliamentary questions on notice show 14,102 searches were conducted after a dog sat next to a person, indicating they might be carrying drugs. But, in 11,248 cases, no drugs were found.

Hmmm… it’s conceivable that 20% of the population had drugs, in which case the dog sniff is actually no better than random. Regardless, any system that violates individual rights and has an 80% chance of being wrong, is, well… wrong.

How could anyone justify this? Surely nobody would conceivably stand behind such a horrible policy that subjects thousands of innocent people to humiliating searches. You’d have to be an absolute moron to justify continuing this policy, wouldn’t you?

But police strongly defend the use of the dogs, saying they are reliable and can detect remaining traces of drugs on people, even after they have been disposed of.

Inspector Chris Condon of the NSW Police dog unit said the detection dogs were extremely accurate, adding that more than ”80 per cent of indications by the dogs result in either drugs being located or the person admitting recent contact with illegal drugs.

”Any suggestion otherwise is incorrect,” Inspector Condon said. ”Drug-detection dogs are an important facet of the overall harm-minimisation strategy of the NSW Police Force. Drug-detection dogs are an extremely effective deterrent to persons transporting drugs for the purpose of supply.”

The NSW Police Association supports the dogs’ use. Its president, Scott Weber, has said they have been valuable deterrents at events such as The Big Day Out.

A spokesman for the NSW Police Minister, Mike Gallacher, said the government fully supported the use of dogs because police had found them effective.

Don Weatherburn, the director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, has said the high number of searches relative to detections is not an indication of failure. ”The question is how many people would carry drugs if not for sniffer dogs,” Dr Weatherburn said.


Why bother with the dogs? Just randomly search people. Or randomly search houses. That’ll deter people and you don’t have to pay for dog food.

Oh, random searches aren’t allowed. You mean you need some reason… or at least the appearance of a reason… like a dog.

[Thanks, Evert]
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25 Responses to More on the unreliability of dog sniff searches

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  3. claygooding says:

    No business or corporation would keep anyone that only performed correctly 26% of the time,,,but in reality the dogs have a 100% production of available searches.

    With very little training they can even make the dog key off on anyone they want to search.

    • Dew-Bee says:

      Much the same way they only catch about 10% of grows etc. and consider that success, meanwhile in the real world that would be considered a complete failure by any measurement.

    • Duncan20903 says:

      Major League Baseball would elect a career .260 hitter to the Hall of Fame.

  4. Duncan20903 says:

    You mean they actually counted?? What happened to blind faith in state issued dogma??? The only way the war on (some) drugs will work is if people really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really believe!

  5. claygooding says:

    Legal question: Is there a civil suit that could be pursued by anyone searched in public,but found clean?

    It could put an end to the dogs if a thousand civil suits were filed on city and state LEO across the country.

    • darkcycle says:

      Of course if you are subjeted to an illegal search you can sue, people do every day. It’s considered “cost of business” and some people have got some pretty large awards. The only way they’ll stop is if a judge TELLS them to.
      You can sue, appeal if you lose, and everything. It is only when the search is not CLEARLY questionable that questions go to the district then the supreme courts.

    • Addycat says:

      Clay, the answer is yes but it is unfortunately highly unlikely to go anywhere. First, qualified immunity would likely apply to the officers who did the search, since the plaintiff would have to show that the officers violated a constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the search. However, perhaps a court could at least declare that there is a constitutional right not to be searched by dogs, considering their inaccuracy. I have to imagine that most of the spineless courts in this country though would view a dog alert as adequate to establish probable cause (or in the case of a roadside stop, reasonable suspicion) for a search. The courts tend to be very pro-law enforcement, in other words pro bull shit.
      Also, it wouldn’t matter if the person was clean or not, just whether the search itself was reasonable.

    • Peter says:

      No 4th Amendment in Australia and, unlike in Britain, the European Court has no power to overthrow “anti-terrorism” loopholes in illegal search laws. I may be wrong, but I suspect that if Australian police seize it it will appear in court as evidence regardless of how it was seized.

  6. Duncan20903 says:

    I really like how they use the very reasoning that should get the dogs sent back to the dog catcher’s compound as a reason to continue using them. “Well they’re not guilty now, but they used to be guilty.” At the very least it should obviate any use of dogs for rental vehicles.

    Is that dog giving that guy a blowjob??

  7. NorCalNative says:

    I wish I could recall the link to the research, but I’m pretty sure that medical knowledge about the terpene profiles of cannabis came from the dog-sniffing research.

    So, while the dogs suck at their job, the research identified the numerous terpenoids that affect the speed and character of the cannaibs experience.

    Since terpenes cross the blood-brain barrier, they play an important role in the psychoactive effect.

  8. Servetus says:

    Until prohibitionists can get a sniffer dog to sit up on a witness stand and speak to a jury (in English, or even Spanish), the courts need to consider a dog’s testimony in a drug case to be merely the dog’s opinion. Opinions aren’t necessarily relevant or allowable when justifying search warrants at criminal trials.

    Some states don’t allow marijuana aromas detected by the police to be used as a justification for searching a vehicle. I think Utah fits that category. In similar cases, the dog’s nose shouldn’t count either.

  9. claygooding says:

    Spanish Basque Country Legalizing Marijuana In 2012

    ​As the U.S. federal government torques up its war on marijuana, parts of Europe are going in the other direction. The Socialist government of the Basque Country in Spain will approve a law in early 2012 which legalizes the cultivation, sale and consumption of cannabis, according to health authorities in the province.

    “It is better to regulate than to ban,” said Jesus Maria Fernandez, second in command at the region’s health authority, reports the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD). Fernandez called marijuana use “a practice that is already consolidated.”

    Kerli better get the checkbook out.

  10. claygooding says:

    With the current economical turmoil in Europe,,will other countries follow or allow the Basque to become the new Bank of Europe?

  11. Bruce says:

    ..Now to lobby for change to convince Spain to allow refugees from western democracies.

    • Duncan20903 says:

      C’mon the blame for both the Mexican cartels and our country’s unregistered guest problem is laid squarely at the feet of Spain.

  12. stayan says:

    Don Weatherburn, the director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, has said the high number of searches relative to detections is not an indication of failure. ”The question is how many people would carry drugs if not for sniffer dogs,” Dr Weatherburn said.

    I carried a caffeinated beverage to work the other day. The prohibition of caffeine and use of sniffer dogs to detect it may have deterred me from ‘carrying’ my caffeine. How would that be helpful Don? What are you preventing? How much money are we wasting in an attempt to prevent people from ‘carrying’ drugs?

    • Duncan20903 says:

      Think of all the black market connections you could make in drugs court! Can people sign up voluntarily?

    • darkcycle says:

      Yep. That’s what the article suggests, but it only talks about the drug war in the context of the border and immigration. If that’s truly the new rubric, how are they excusing the dispensary raids, the grower busts, the hit jobs on pain doctors, and all the other manifestations of the domestic drug war? Obama DESPERATELY wants to be able to say “I ended the war on drugs”….But I remember another President who said “The troops are coming home.” Years before leaving Viet Nam, and another jerk standing in forn of a “Mission Accomplished” banner touting the success in a country we still haven’t left.
      Next time a President tells you a war is “over”, remember…they lie.
      Plus, the press and the public are used to the “drug war term…they’re not going to replace it easily.

  13. Duncan20903 says:

    Christ the Canadians are such milquetoast panty waists. I think we should start an income tax for Canadians. It sounds absurd on it’s face but I’m willing to bet that between 7 and 8 out of 10 Canadians would file a return with a cheque payable to Uncle Sam attached. Why increase tax on anything or anyone American when we sit next to a nation of patsies that aren’t paying their fair share?

    • darkcycle says:

      There was honest-to-god coffee out the nose just now Duncan…your timing was spot on. Tax the Canadians. We’re an Empire…why the hell not? (note to my many Canadian friends…just kidding!!!) I gotta wipe up this mess.

      • Duncan20903 says:

        I’ve deferred adopting any opinion WRT global warming/cooling/climate change/whatever is today’s PC phrase because it’s just too complicated, listening to polarized eggheads arguing back and forth is even more confusing, and quite frankly I just don’t care much about it. Being able to identify whatever it is is almost certainly beyond the ken of today’s scientists from my observations. They really haven’t got the data required in order to make a claim of such magnitude. IMO of course.

        That being said, the core samples from the polar ice caps is pretty compelling supporting evidence. But still I usually pretty much avoid the controversy. When two sides have such fiercely emotional and diametrically opposed positions the worst place to be is sitting on the fence because both sides view you as the enemy and will attempt to rhetorically beat the tar out of you. So when I saw the headline that Canada had withdrawn from the Kyoto treaty my first thought was that meant that it was pretty darn likely that they felt that the theory of global warming had been debunked. After all, the Canadians are in a position of getting totally screwed if the ice caps start melting.

        Well, no such luck. After clicking the link with such high hopes for the peace of mind brought by closure I find out they just did it because they didn’t want Uncle getting pissed of at them. Extraditing Marc Emery was one thing, after all he’s a stand alone event no matter the context. So it really annoyed me that they’ve withdrawn from the Kyoto treaty just because they don’t want to annoy Uncle.

        The really sad part is that Canada is just lousy with natural resources. If they weren’t such sniveling wimps they could make us jump through their hoops with ease. There’s no way that the international community would let us invade Canada or to allow us to just take their stuff. But just as Americans don’t tolerate unjust laws or take orders from other countries and have not since day 1, the Canadians have been kowtowing to and paying off foreigners for their entire history. They’d still be a British colony had Britain not decided to give them their independence.

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