UK Drug Dogs Finding Way More Sausage And Cheese Than Actual Drugs

from the anyone-who-owns-a-dog-completely-unsurprised dept

Drug dogs here in the US are mainly one-trick ponies, to clumsily mix a metaphor. Domesticated canines aim to please. Training of drug dogs involves giving them treats or toys upon alerting. You don’t have to be Pavlov to see how this plays out in the real world. Dogs will alert in hopes of a reward or be nudged in that direction by conscious or unconscious “nudges” by their handlers. Hence, we have drug dogs in use with horrendous track records. (But, notably, not horrendous enough to result in judicial smackdowns, for the most part.)

The UK deploys its own drug dogs as well. Turns out they have the same problems… sort of. For one, they’re not all that great at detecting drugs or other contraband, according to a report by the UK’s Independent Inspector of Borders and Immigration. (via Mashable)

The report finds the human staff at the Manchester Airport to be mostly capable. The dogs, however, not so much.

The deterrent effect of the detection dogs was difficult to measure, but seizures alone represented a low return on investment, given £1.25m spent on new kennels and the costs of operating the unit.

Apparently, one of the key forms of contraband the drug dogs were supposed to detect went completely undetected during an eight-month period.

Heroin and cocaine were assessed as ‘very high’ priority within both air passengers and freight. Yet, according to the data provided by Border Force, the dogs had made no Class A drugs detections in the period November 2014 to June 2015.

It’s not that the dogs weren’t detecting anything at all. There were “alerts,” but they weren’t for illegal drugs, cash, etc. and they weren’t false alerts triggered by handlers. Instead, the dogs appeared to be operating on empty stomachs.

When deployed, the POAO dog made multiple accurate detections, but most were of small amounts of cheese or sausages, wrongly brought back by returning British holidaymakers and posing minimal risk to UK public health.

The only motivation more powerful than the innate desire to please: the desire to consume sausage and cheese.

To be fair, the dogs did detect some illegal drugs…

In our own sample from 1 November to 30 April (Figure 16), the six detections were three small amounts of Class B drugs and three lots of tablets – Human Growth Hormone, Viagra and Bromazepam.

Which is why the Inspector is understandably unimpressed that six dogs have cost the agency £1.25m plus whatever yearly maintenance costs. The report cuts the underperforming dogs a lot of slack by suggesting “routine” use has altered drug smugglers’ strategies to route around the drug sniffers. On the other hand, the multiple “detections” of foodstuffs dogs naturally find delicious suggests £1.25m isn’t enough money to feed the dogs properly.

The agency agrees with the Inspector, leading to this very weird sentence.

A senior manager agreed that there was a lack of innovation in the use of the dogs.

Perhaps we’ve reached peak drug dog. There may be no further innovation possible. The reality is that, while the animals enjoy the use of heightened senses, they’re still just animals and will default to instinctual behavior faster than (most) humans will. It really wouldn’t be a problem if law enforcement and security officials recognized this inherent drawback, but they rarely do. Instead, trained dogs are presented to citizens and courts as miracles of nature and instrumental contributors to various Wars on Things — even as evidence continues to mount indicating they’re no better at detecting contraband than their handlers, who don’t possess heightened olfactory capabilities.

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Comments on “UK Drug Dogs Finding Way More Sausage And Cheese Than Actual Drugs”

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34 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Meanwhile in Florida...

Drug dogs have always been overused in Florida. Now Fish & Wildlife has got in to the game and have “fish dogs”. They have dogs to sniff boats to see if you have any illegal catches hidden onboard. With very short fishing seasons and 2 fish limits it’s turned into a bit of a cash cow. $2k fine per illegal fish. I’m sure some legislator sold the idea on how much bank they’ll make (after forgetting about the cost of training and upkeep on the dogs).

Whatever says:

What a crock. So a few people had their time wasted, is that such a big deal? What’s the alternative? Would you rather that people who carry drugs also carry sausages and cheese so you can write this horseshit at the police’s expense?

Oh, right. This is TechDirt, where every day is “Fuck the Police” Day.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Response to: Whatever on Apr 20th, 2016 @ 4:58am

So you’d rather see the police allow passengers to smuggle drugs across borders because they rely on ineffective tools? If you’re so pro-cop wouldn’t you want them to perform better? Or do you want us to accept they are incompetent, some fatally so and will never live up to the expectations set before them.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“So a few people had their time wasted, is that such a big deal?”

How many missed flights and connections? How much did that cost them? How many missed business meetings and other related costs? Not to mention the costs of the people really wasting time – the dogs’ trainers, handlers and other staff who could have been doing something effective.

“What’s the alternative?”

Investing in effective ways of catching people with drugs rather than spending over $2 million of taxpayer money on catching people with “small amounts” of food (read: people bringing back food from holiday they were unaware were not allowed despite the fact that they’d gorged themselves on the same food the previous night without issue)? that seems like a wise use of the money to me.

“Would you rather that people who carry drugs also carry sausages and cheese”

The 6 people who this program caught without them doing so, half of whom were on carrying “small amounts” and as such mostly personal use and thus not stopping any trafficking? Sure, why not, it’s not like major smugglers were getting caught anyway.

“This is TechDirt, where every day is “Fuck the Police” Day.”

No, it’s always “moron trying to derail the tread” day, however. Why address the problems when you can make stupid statements and pretend they don’t exist?

DB (profile) says:

Wait… the dogs are credited with finding Viagra?

That puts this in a different light. The dogs aren’t actually sniffing out drugs. They are triggering on other things, including tasty food. The near-random searches are turning up related illicit materials, and the dog are given credit for the interception.

How many bags were searched where nothing was found? How do the dogs compare with randomly selecting bags? What about a feed-back based system biased by color/size/wear/origin of earlier interceptions?

David says:

The role of the dogs is that of dowsing rods

Where the dog handlers are already in interaction with persons, the signals the dogs will pick up will be the hunches of the handlers. Assuming that this is not a conscious deception, this works somewhat like dowsing rods, providing a way to bring the subconscious to the surface by believing it to be an external entity.

Now the thing is that a dowsing rod carrier would not suffice as “probably cause”, but the dogs do. They probably do a better job when working in baggage/ware stores where the distraction with the interaction is gone.

They probably would still be better at figuring out suspects without handler interaction (because dogs are rather good at picking up actual emotions rather than displayed ones), but if you don’t want to employ their people skills but their sense of smell, it’s probably best to employ them offline.

hopponit (profile) says:

dogs and sausage

What kind (breed) of dogs are they using.I helped raise funds for a new dog for our local force (they are pretty good guys thank you) after the death of a couple older K9s. While doing research I noticed a preference for Dobermans and other “tough” dogs. This was true even though the cost of this type of dog ended up being $12,000. vs $1,400 for bloodhounds.The bloodhounds are easy to train for tracking and really good at sniffing things out and take to it naturally. The other dog breeds must be cross trained later to be able to sniff out things for even more money.The bloodhounds just don’t look as menacing.

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