I Prefer Beagles To Cavity Searches

“Search others for their virtue, and yourself for your vices.”  -R. Buckminster Fuller

BeagleAmanda Marcotte discussed a post by Sebastian over at Obsidian Wings, which discussed the use of drug sniffing dogs. According to new research, drug dogs are a bit racist, and some researchers have concluded that the dogs are picking up on subtle clues from the handlers, rather than on scents. (I guess that makes the handlers racist.)

Marcotte argues:

“But in the more immediate future, we must demand an immediate end to all use of drug dogs, certainly until it can be demonstrated in double blind studies run by experts that the dogs are detecting drugs and not reacting to subconscious signals sent by police.”

I don’t disbelieve Marcotte and Sebastian. I’m not surprised that the dogs are responding to their owners (likely subconscious) racism. I also agree with Marcotte about the absurdity of the “War on Drugs.” However, I wonder about the use of drug sniffing dogs in other situations.

My experiences with drug sniffing dogs have been limited to airports. Three or four times, as I’ve been waiting for my checked baggage, I’ve witnessed dogs and their handlers walking through the baggage area. Twice that I can recall, the handler was instructing the dog to sniff every single bag people had in their possession (mostly carry-on bags people were holding while waiting for their checked bags to appear). I would guess that the dogs weren’t only looking for drugs but also for agricultural products or animals or other things people aren’t supposed to be bringing into a country.

I’m not an expert in dogs, but Mythbusters did seem to the confirm that dogs can find stuff pretty much anywhere. Assuming dogs can actually detect the things are trained to find, I think their use is warranted in some instances. The problem with the situation that Marcotte and Sebastian are describing is the policy of using the dog’s “signal” as an excuse to search someone. Since race (or religion or whatever) isn’t declared on a suitcase, you could employ dogs to sniff checked luggage, buildings, etc. without concerns about profiling.

I would also be interested in studies about the success of dogs search for other items, like agricultural products. Do these handlers of these dogs also have the same track record?

Perhaps the TSA process would be easier if we were all sniffed by dogs handled by blindfolded handlers rather than having to take off our shoes and walk through a metal detector. I’d much rather see an army of beagles at security than most TSA agents.

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