Study: Drug Dogs Most Likely To Err In Traffic Stop Scenarios

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 24, 2014

    Dogs trained to detect the presence of illegal drugs are most likely to provide false alerts in situations involving the search of a motor vehicle, according to the findings of a study published online in the journal Forensic Science International.

    A team of researchers from the United States and Poland assessed the ability of trained drug sniffing dogs to accurately detect the presence controlled substances – including marijuana, hashish, amphetamines, cocaine and heroin – in various environments.

    Dogs were most likely to correctly identify the presence of contraband, particularly marijuana, during searches of individual rooms. If the dog had previous exposure to the room prior to the search, it was least likely to provide a false alert (83 percent correct identifications versus 10 percent false alerts).

    Dogs were far less reliable in scenarios designed to mimic real-world traffic stops. In situations where dogs accessed the perimeter of a motor vehicle, the animals accurately alerted to the presence contraband only 64 percent of the time. Fifteen percent of the time dogs failed to recognize the presence of illicit drugs. Twenty-two percent of the time the dogs indicated that illegal drugs were present when they were not.

    Drug dogs’ failure rates were even more pronounced in situations where the animals had access to the inside of a vehicle. In this scenario, dogs correctly responded to the presence of contraband only 58 percent of time. They provided false alerts 36 percent of time.

    Previous studies have similarly documented drug dogs’ tendency to provide false alerts. In 2011, researchers at the University of California at Davis reported that the performance of drug-sniffing dogs is significantly influenced by whether or not their handlers believe illicit substances are present. That same year, a review of Australian government statistics, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, found that some 80 percent of drug dog alerts in New South Wales yielded no illicit substances.

    In 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Illinois v Caballes that an alert from a police dog during a traffic stop provides a constitutional basis for law enforcement to search the interior of the vehicle.

    30 responses to “Study: Drug Dogs Most Likely To Err In Traffic Stop Scenarios”

    1. St. Nick and Dime says:

      Where’s McGruff? The dog who takes “a bite out of crime.” We got bears who fight fires. Smokey. And eagles who spread freedom. Cats get high on catnip, we should be allowed to feel good by law. God put Marijuana here for a reason. And he saw that it was good. Stop the suffering and create jobs and make money. Jesus could have participated in some bowl passing. You can’t prove me wrong! 🙂 Legalize it!

    2. Ryan Moyer says:

      Note* during a traffic stop where dogs are not deployed ahead of time, the nazi pigs have to get the dog on site in 9 minutes under current court rulings of de minimus. (Sp). Know your rights and assert them!

    3. Anonymous says:

      The dogs probably just smell the joint you smoked in your car last week. Police usually carry byob pot to plant on anyone they want to arrest anyway.

    4. Julian says:

      If a drug dog cant tell the difference between pending or cold evidence does it really make a bark?

    5. Druk says:

      “The infallible dog, however, is a creature of legal fiction…. Their supposed infallibility is belied by judicial opinions describing well-trained animals sniffing and alerting with less than perfect accuracy, whether owing to errors by their handlers, the limitations of the dogs themselves, or even the pervasive contamination of currency by cocaine.”
      — Justice Souter

    6. Dave Evans says:

      Drug dogs, dope dogs, whatever dogs. Not sure there’s point here, or there. Dogs want to make their people happy, even if that means pretending there are drugs. The dogs are only as good as their handlers. Pigs are much better than dogs, I don’t even understand why dogs are used, its just bullshit.

    7. Steve says:

      The big problem is that these drug dogs can also alert upon hand signals from their handler who wants the dog to alert so that a search can be made. Our constitutional rights are going to hell.

    8. Genius says:

      The title of this article is misleading. Considering the drug dogs gave false alerts 22% of the time, I wouldn’t say that’s “most likely”. It is more probable that the dogs will be right based on the info you gave.

      [Paul Armentano responds: Among the different scenarios the dogs were most likely to false alert in those mimicking traffic stops, as opposed to the other environments.]

    9. bummer oklahoma says:

      I like the idea of pigs, can’t you just see a pigs head sticking out a cop cars window!!!

    10. Genius says:

      I’ll state it again…this title is misleading. The dogs are not giving false alerts more than 50% of the time so how can you say “most likely” to err? I’m all about legalization but I’m also about honest and accurate reporting