Law enforcement in Louisiana uses K9 officers to help with searches and investigations. The unique ability of a dog can come in handy to find hidden drugs, bombs and other illegal items. When using a K9, the handler watches the dog for an alert that it found something. This will often trigger further action on the part of the human officer.
According to NPR, a study published years ago created a stir over whether handlers affect the ability of K9s to sniff out drugs properly. This study showed that unconscious signals from the handler often caused false alerts from the K9s. However, handlers and the law enforcement community objected to the study’s finding, saying they were unfounded and not true.
The bigger problem
The problem is not that handlers may influence the dogs because it is not intentional, but that such influence could result in unfair searches. In many locations, an alert from a drug dog allows for a search. It is no wonder law enforcement objected to a study saying this happens. Nobody wants the perception that there is any bias in this field or that there is an occurrence of unlawful searches due to that bias.
Fixing the issue
While many wanted to sweep these findings under the rug and label them as false information, many people also realized it was an issue that needed addressing. There is work occurring to try to prevent this type of influence. Some methods include regular retesting and certification of handlers and K9s. Tests can help to note any subconscious signals that the dog picks up.
There is no doubt that K9s are quite useful in law enforcement, but it is vital that they operate without bias. This is the only way to fully trust in the alerts they give and to protect the rights of citizens against illegal law enforcement actions.