More Scrutiny for the Identifying Powers of Police Dogs

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

More welcome skepticism of junk science in the court room.

Two federal lawsuits are casting a harsh spotlight on an investigative tool long beloved by American law enforcement: a bloodhound’s nose.

Lawsuits filed in Victoria, Texas, allege that Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Pikett and his team of hounds — James Bond, Quincy and Clue — failed controversial sniff tests known as “scent lineups.”

Much like in traditional lineups, the dogs link human scents left at crime scenes to samples from suspects.

In each case, the suits allege, Pikett’s dogs called attention to the wrong person. Both former suspects have been cleared.

This part is fun:

Ken Sparks, county attorney in Colorado County, Texas, an enthusiastic supporter of Pikett’s work, says he understands some of the skepticism.

“Everybody who encounters it the first time says, ‘Yeah, right,’ ” Sparks says. “That’s what I said before I first saw it work.”

Pikett says the lawsuits are just attempts to win large awards. “It’s all about money,” he says.

One of the men wrongly identified by the police dog was jailed for three months before being exonerated by DNA testing. The greedy bastard actually thinks he should compensated for that.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about another police dog in Orlando whose “testimony” has come under fire.

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25 Responses to “More Scrutiny for the Identifying Powers of Police Dogs”

  1. #1 |  Bob | 

    “Morse, Pikett’s lawyer, says his client had no reason to implicate either man.”

    Well of course he did. His job was to get evidence on the suspect. It doesn’t matter if he uses dogs, divining rods, or psychic power… it’s his responsibility to ensure the veracity of his science, and be able to document that veracity on demand.

    It’s a great scam, you have an animal generating evidence that cannot be cross examined. How hard would it be to rig a “scent lineup”? Then what are you going to do, put the dog on the stand?

  2. #2 |  Bob | 

    Here’s a storty about his dogs doing what they do:

    I have to wonder. What were the dogs for? If they already had DNA evidence, and a sack of witnesses… and a shoeprint…

    I’m not saying this isn’t a good case, All I have to go on is this one article. But a few glaring points jump out:

    Their suspect, Reginal James was picked up because he was seen walking the street before 5am. Huh? So they found warrants on him, and arrested him for that. Basically, they just grabbed a guy off the street. Now they just gotta link him to the crime scene without any probable cause….

    “Unlike DNA, there is no need for a search warrant to capture someone’s scent. All it takes is a swift touch on the skin with a gauze pad.”

    Bada bing, bada boom! Probable cause for a search warrant is in the house!

    So… how ‘scientific’ was this lineup? Did everyone there already know which can to make the dogs go to? And why bring only 2 dogs? Oh… thet wasn’t specified… only that 2 dogs identified the correct can (And by correct, I mean the one they wanted them to identify). What about the other 2 dogs?

    This is junk science. Dressing it up like it’s a legit ‘experiment’ is just part of the scam. And here’s the rub… like many ‘psychics’, this guy may actually believe his dogs are virtually 100% accurate just because of the rigged tests.

  3. #3 |  Hamburglar007 | 

    Are you calling my dog a liar?

  4. #4 |  Mattocracy | 

    It’s absolutely unfathomable that any rational human being that we would deem to have the capacity to act as a judge would let the behavior of a fucking animal act as evidence against another person. Dogs are all about pleasing a master; they have no concept of objective judgment in regards to a court case. They aren’t much different from the mentally handicapped in that sense. And this is concrete evidence we use to send a human being to prison!? Goddamnit, how are these morons even passing the bar exam!?

    Science has really lost all of it’s objectivity. As soon as people realized that they could legally exert power and influence by claiming that “science” can prove something, science turned into a religion. Scientists and politicians became like priests that pontificate new fucking rules a regs for our personal lives. If we don’t willingly follow them, by God, they’ll fucking make us or else their revealed…excuse me, scientifically proven…doomsday prophecies will ruin us all. Skeptics are backwards thinking and evil. Probably a crybaby liberal or an ignorant rightwing dufus.

    Seriously, that’s the asinine reasoning someone uses to say and defend the idea that dogs…fucking DOGS!, who can’t talk, can’t read, can’t play music, can’t think about abstract concepts, but can be trusted to make accurate witnesses to restrict a human being’s rights!

    My Tuesday is ruined.

  5. #5 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    Police don’t want to admit what the dogs are really for:
    1) To enhance their own authority through fear
    2) To circumvent the 4th Amendment. “Probable cause” means nothing when dogs can be cajoled into acting frisky or
    alert or whatever mumbo jumbo they are supposed to
    do in the presence of something “illegal.”

    ‘Bout time somebody takes it to the courtrooms.

  6. #6 |  scottp | 

    Junk science, huh? Makes it sound like the dog was crotch sniffing.

  7. #7 |  omar | 

    @Mattocracy #4

    Science has really lost all of it’s objectivity. As soon as people realized that they could legally exert power and influence by claiming that “science” can prove something, science turned into a religion.

    I think you have your timeline backwards. The world started dark with everyone claiming they could prove something without proper evidence and using the claims to influence the law. The long march of science in culture hasn’t been to discover new toys; it’s been the pruning of BS in a systematic way. It’s the act of saying “this isn’t true because I haven’t proved it to be so” much more than saying “this is true because I have proved it to be so”.

    This is another example of mysticism with a “scientific” label slapped on. Science hasn’t turned into religion. Religion is trying to re-brand itself using the hard-earned good name of science. The only thing that can defeat this kind of mysticism is science.

    It’s a shame the vast majority of people writing, judging, and enforcing our laws don’t apply the scientific method (or even a skeptical eye) in their daily lives. Most of those people probably couldn’t construct a proper experiment, let alone see through poorly constructed experiments designed not to find the truth, but to convince an audience on a point.

  8. #8 |  MDGuy | 

    Beat me to it Omar…and you explained the point much more elegantly than I could have. As much as I can appreciate Mattocracy’s frustration at the situation, the problem here isn’t the science. In fact what is needed is more science, along with an understanding that peer review and replication of your results is paramount to credible science. If it isn’t peer reviewed, then by definition it is not science.

  9. #9 |  Mattocracy | 

    @ Omar,

    Your comment is definitely more precise than my angry rant. It is more accurate to say that scientific studies are being hijacked by those with more sinister motives. Emotions just get the best of us (me) sometimes.

    It just gets harder and harder to distinguish real science and skepticism from hogwash since everyone claims so fervently that they are objectively scientific. Bullshit artists just ruin the good names of science, reason, etc by associating themselves with ideas they have little in common with. They are the Bill Maher to our Libertarianism.

  10. #10 |  Jeremy Hull | 

    He’s right, it IS all about money. Money for prisons, cops, lawyers, judges, taken away from those who are on the periphery of a perfect society to ensure those people are locked up like animals or cast out into the wilderness

  11. #11 |  Chris in AL | 

    @ #3

    Nice. Forgot about that classic line. Perhaps I missed the follow up, but whatever happened with that case? Did they get the RV back? Are they going to have to come back to Mississippi to face any charges?

  12. #12 |  Bob | 

    So… the link I put up earlier? It seems the detective working that case, Patrick Hawthorne, has really gotten some mileage out of it:—anson_police_chief/

    Read the comment (There’s only one)

    The way this guy talks, it was a slam dunk case with no question as to guilt. I find it a little disturbing then, that they needed the dogs at all. It seems clear that the dogs were used to place him at the scene, and THEN the DNA evidence could come into play. What are the odds that a random crackhead off the street would be guilty?

    The police are all too willing to find a suspect, then generate evidence against that suspect to the exclusion of all else. Then they look like ‘heroes’ and their careers are bolstered.

  13. #13 |  Mattocracy | 

    “If it isn’t peer reviewed, then by definition it is not science.”

    Right on. Unfortunately, our prosecuters, law enforcement, and judges aren’t real big fans of peer review. Back to the point of the post (figure I should be the one to get us back on topic since I kinda derailed the thread), fallability is something that authority cannot tolerate. Our justice (legal) system needs to have it’s incentives changed to honor peer review as opposed to placing such confidence on weak credentials. Like a dog.

    How we do that is beyond me. Any ideas out there?

  14. #14 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    I think the disagreement above highlighted the irony here.
    By relying on dogs, the police and juries took it as
    a “scientific” assay of some crime that human witnesses could never fully achieve.
    Now logic is catching up and people are realizing how
    there is no method to this madness. Or that over time it has become horribly misguided.
    This use of dogs, in many cases, is about as scientific as snake oil.
    How about talking raccoons, like the old Outer Limits episode.
    That’s next.

  15. #15 |  Ginger Dan | 


    ….the Bill Maher to our libertarianism

    Quote of the day. Cheered me up after reading this article.

  16. #16 |  Bernard | 

    “If it isn’t peer reviewed, then by definition it is not science.”

    It is peer reviewed. Ask any cop in locker rooms up and down the country and they’ll be delighted to tell you that it works because cops (and that includes canine cops) don’t lie.

    What more proof could there be?

  17. #17 |  Dave Krueger | 

    …James Bond, Quincy and Clue…


  18. #18 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Look guys, if you throw out unreliable junk science, testimony from lying cops, reports from sloppy crime labs, planted evidence, notoriously inaccurate claims from suggestible eyewitnesses, and now dog sniffing proof, you’ve just dispensed with the 90% of the tools that the justice system uses to get convictions.

  19. #19 |  SusanK | 

    The point of bringing in dogs to gather evidence when it is not needed is to pad the dog’s statistics: if the dog gets the “right” result, he’s credited with assisting in that case. When his handler testifies in subsequent criminal trials, the handler can say “Oh, Sparky has helped convicted tons of people” even if that’s not entirely accurate.

  20. #20 |  pam | 

    Dave @18, you forgot jailhouse snitches and “Dr” Hayne.

  21. #21 |  Bob | 


    Don’t forget the dog’s ability to bypass search and seizure rules.

    “Durn it! We just knows youse gots drugs in there!”

    “Oh look! Our dog, “Sir Alertsalot” has alerted! Start the search, boys!”

    In the previous case, they had an arbitrary suspect, but needed a warrant to get DNA to make a match (My assumption, there).

  22. #22 |  Brandon Bowers | 

    It’s funny that most of the people I talk to about crap like this still repeat the stuff they “learned” in DARE: Dogs are infallible and incorruptible, with a 100% success rate and anyone who disagrees is a bitter evil druggy.

  23. #23 |  skootercat |

  24. #24 |  TomMil | 

    #1 Then what are you going to do, put the dog on the stand?

    I think that’s a great idea. I bet alot of folks named, “Art” and “Ruth” would disagree, tho’.

  25. #25 |  Keith Pikett’s Miracle Dogs | The Agitator | 

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