‘False Alert’ Rate For Drug Dogs Tops 80 Percent

Sydney, Australia: Some 80 percent of drug dog ‘alerts’ in New South Wales in 2011 yielded no illicit substances, according to state government statistics published this week by the Sydney Morning Herald.

According to the paper, in the first nine months of 2011, “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.”

Statistics for 2010 showed a similarly high false positive rate. Of the 15,779 searches conducted after police-dog identification, no drugs were found in 11,694 cases, the Herald reported.

The statistics were made public following a Parliamentary inquiry regarding the widespread use of drug dogs.

Despite the high error rate, a spokesman for the NSW Police Minister said that the government “fully supported the use of dogs because police had found them effective.”

Earlier this year, a study published in the scientific journal Animal Cognition reported that the performance of drug-sniffing dogs is significantly influenced by whether or not their handlers believe illicit substances are present.

In 2004, 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.

For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel, at (202) 483-5500.