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K-9 Units Less Reliable Than Police BelieveMany police departments have trained K-9 units that alert them to the presence of illegal drugs. In Illinois, dogs are trained to conduct sniff searches for heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and cannabis and to give the handler a response when there is a hit. Courts have ruled that using a K-9 unit is not an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and can create probable cause to conduct a further search for the illegal substances. However, studies show a significant rate of false alerts by K-9 units, which creates doubt about whether an alert from a dog should be enough evidence to allow a police search.

Problem with K-9 Units

Illinois requires dogs in K-9 units to be retested annually to ensure that they are accurate in detecting illegal substances. However, handlers are part of the cause of false alerts in some cases. Dogs are eager to please their handlers and able to pick up on unintentional body language. When a handler is suspicious of a package or vehicle, the dog may give a positive alert in order to affirm that suspicion. The handler can also train the dog to give false alerts by giving it a treat only when it alerts the handler. Despite this potential bias during drug searches, many police departments have not trained their K-9 units to ignore unintentional cues from their handlers.

Court Rulings

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently trusted the accuracy of K-9 unit searches and considered them unobtrusive in most cases:

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