DOGMost of us love dogs, and if not dogs specifically, then animals in general. In fact, I have noticed over the last several years a growing trend towards animal advocacy. Years ago it was rare, if ever, that you heard of a “no-kill” shelter. Stray dogs and cats were simply picked up by animal control and then dropped off at local animal shelters. If that pet was not claimed or adopted, euthanasia was imminent. It is a sad fact, but true nonetheless. Then we started hearing more and more about spay/neuter campaigns. For those who found the cost of spaying or neutering to be prohibitive, clinics started cropping up through the help of shelters, veterinarian offices began offering reduced fees, and animal advocacy groups started implementing and/or supporting these procedures being offered for free or at reduced costs. Frequent commercials and billboards touting the importance of spaying or neutering your pet began to become commonplace. This was also the case with advertisements from animal activists imploring you to choose the adoption of strays over purchasing pets that are a specific breed from breeders.

I have an affinity for animals, so I agree for the most part that when choosing a pet, adoption is a great idea. It is this type of common care and concern that we have for animals that makes a recent story reported by the media so terribly tragic. On May 27, 2015, Hialeah police officer Nelson Enriquez finished up a long shift before returning to his home in Davie around 11 a.m. This is not that unusual until you learn that Enriquez had been a K-9 officer for seven years, yet he somehow managed to leave his two K-9 partners, Jimmy (a bloodhound) and Hektor (a Belgian Malinois), in his unmarked SUV for more than six hours. When he returned to his vehicle, he found both dogs had succumbed to the intense heat that built up inside of the vehicle. Why, with all of his experience and training, this occurred has yet to be determined, but it is a tragedy nonetheless. Maybe, in his exhausted state, he thought that he had brought the dogs into the house with him, only to realize his error several hours later. In reading about Officer Enriquez, it is difficult to imagine that he intentionally harmed these dogs which were reportedly also his family pets.

I would be hard-pressed to believe that a seemingly dedicated canine handler knowingly committed this heinous act. The reason, however, is still under investigation. The remains of the dogs were sent to Orlando for a necropsy to confirm the suspected manner of death. As with any fallen officer, a memorial service was held for these K-9 cops. These particular police dogs were held in high regard by the Hialeah Police Department, so much so that this memorial service was one befitting any police officer. This type of treatment of canine police officers, the recognizing them as members of the police force with which they work, is a relatively new occurrence. The use of dogs to assist law enforcement, however, has been around at least since the medieval period in Europe with the first documented use being in St. Malo, France. Here in the United States, the first known K-9 unit was developed by the U.S. Army during the Second Seminole War which occurred in Florida from 1835-1842. It wasn’t until much later that canines were systematically used in the military and police forces.

Initially it was the German shepherd that was selected for use, particularly for protection because of their incredible bite force, loyalty, and intelligence. Many people stereotype German shepherds because historically they have been used in negative situations such as in Nazi prison camps, and they are frequently used to quell riots. Although they are often viewed as “attack dogs”, they are usually loyal and loving pets who strive to please their handlers/owners. This is another characteristic that makes them a popular choice for canine cops. The German shepherd may be the image that comes to mind when thinking about police dogs, but these day there are several breeds that are used by the military and at all levels of law enforcement including local, state, and federal agencies. These breeds include Belgian Malinois like Hektor, which are used by the Secret Service to patrol the White House and its grounds; bloodhounds like Jimmy to search for missing persons; and even beagles which are often used to sniff out contraband in airports because they look much less threatening than some other K-9 cops.

Some additional breeds that are in use are the American Pitbull, Doberman pinschers, Dutch shepherds, and Labrador retrievers. These dogs are used for a variety of purposes such as the detection of drugs or bombs, search and rescue, cadaver discovery, and most notably, protection. In fact, police dogs often fulfill the role of a human partner by providing back-up and protection of his human partner. (It is a common practice to employ the use of male dogs as police dogs.) It is amazing to watch these dogs in action, as long as you are not on the receiving end of their abilities. Unfortunately, there is considerable controversy about their use here in the U.S. and in Canada. As I mentioned, many people perceive these dogs as attack dogs and many others question the accuracy of their ability to accurate detect drugs and those who are carrying or have been handling drugs.

Part of the concern is inconsistent training and the lack of a general standard. An additional consideration is how the results of alerts are gauged. These dogs are used to “establish probable cause” to effect an arrest or justify a drug search. When a dog alerts, he is often trained to sit and look to his handler for further instruction. If a dog alerts in the presence of a suspect or suspect’s vehicle, the law deems this to be “probable cause.” One particular court case, Florida v. Harris, called in to question the validity of the use of a dog’s response as probable cause to search a vehicle. One way in which Florida v. Harris did so was by providing very compelling evidence that questioned the accuracy of the police dog’s “hits”. The method by which the canine officer, Aldo, was trained was closely examined. Aldo’s handler, Officer Wheetley, testified that he would take small amounts of marijuana and hide them in various vehicles in a junkyard. When Aldo would alert correctly, Wheetley would document these events. What was addressed in this case was that the officer had no data to show what percentage of “misses” Aldo may have complied. Without that data, it is impossible to calculate Aldo’s statistical accuracy.

Unfortunately for those who are interested in protecting their Fourth Amendment rights, after several years of court battles, the Supreme Court finally addressed the probable cause issue. They determined that ‘the totality of the circumstances” combined with the dog’s alert establishes probable cause for the search. This provides the loophole needed by Florida law enforcement to be able to continue to use K-9s to search vehicles that they stop for other reasons. When Officer Wheetley stopped Mr. Harris, he became suspicious because of Mr. Harris’s actions. It was for this reason that he released Aldo to sniff around the vehicle. This is just one strong illustration as to why it is so important to remain calm and polite if you are pulled over for a traffic violation.

Whether you agree or disagree with the accuracy and use of canine police dogs, the Supreme Court has seen fit to allow their continued use. Whether or not this impinges upon the Fourth Amendment is debatable. If you happen to get pulled over by a canine handler who releases his K-9 to conduct a scent search, remember to remain cooperative. If you receive a traffic violation or if you are found to have an illegal substance in your vehicle, you will need a good traffic ticket attorney, so give us a call at 954-967-9888. There are methods to successfully fight charges brought about by a K-9 search.

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