matt solin

A Curious Tactic


While going through my pictures, I happened upon a photo I snapped a few months ago, while taking a class in criminal procedure. It raises a number of questions for me.

Drug Dog Gauntlet

This picture is of a police officer leaning on a railing, relaxing with drug dog in front of him. Because of where he is standing, in order to get on the RiverLine platform from the transportation center, you either have to walk over the tracks and climb up the two-foot platform (which some people do) or walk all the way around (which no one does).

Immediately upon seeing this situation, I became nervous to walk past the pair and get on the platform. Don’t get me wrong; I do not do any drugs or carry them around, and that day was no exception. I’m not worried in the least about the dog catching me with drugs. I have other problems with this picture:

1) False positives happen sometimes.

2) If I were to avoid the officer, am I raising suspicion? Reasonable suspicion? It is common practice for police to station a “chase car” before DUI checkpoints to watch and follow people who attempt to avoid the upcoming stop. If I try to ride the train without subjecting myself to the dog’s nose, what then?

3) What about the Fourth Amendment? This is where the caselaw becomes slightly unsettling. In United States v. Place, the Supreme Court found that a dog sniff search at an airport was not a “search” for Fourth Amendment purposes. It held, rather bluntly, that “the particular course of investigation that the agents intended to pursue here — exposure of respondent’s luggage, which was located in a public place, to a trained canine — did not constitute a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.” And it has only gotten worse. Illinois v. Caballes sanctioned dog sniffs during routine traffic stops, as long as the process does not lengthen the traffic stop unreasonably. I have no doubt that what this officer did was legal under federal law. That makes it no less questionable.

4) As my professor said last semester, maybe some people just have a problem with dogs. I’m personally afraid of dogs, especially ones that are the size of the one in the picture. This does not appear to be a concern of the officer. And in seeking to avoid the dog, I’d somehow be creating reasonable suspicion that only a Terry frisk can alleviate, I’m sure.

What the officer is doing in the picture is probably effective, and definitely legal. I understand why he would do it. I just don’t like what it says about where we are as a country.