Colorado Court Complicates Life For Drug-Sniffing Dogs
SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:
The role of police dogs in Colorado to find drugs is changing. The state's Supreme Court ruled last week that a dog trained to alert to marijuana cannot be used before an officer establishes probable cause. The ruling was over a 2015 arrest where a police dog alerted officers that drugs were inside a suspicious truck. Officers found drugs, a meth pipe and some residue. And the driver was convicted on two drug possession charges.
But the driver's attorney appealed the sentence, arguing the search was illegal because the police dog could have been alerting officers to the presence of a legal amount of marijuana. And officers otherwise did not have enough evidence to search the truck. The court agreed. Brian Laas is a police officer in Arvada, Colo., and the president of the Colorado Police K-9 Association. He joins us now.
BRIAN LAAS: Hi.
DAVIS: So what are the implications of this decision for K-9 police officers in Colorado?
LAAS: For most of the dogs, we've probably gone from a ratio of 80% used to be trained on marijuana to now, we've reversed that to where only 20% have any marijuana training on them. So the limiting factor of now having a dog that is trained in marijuana - it is no longer utilized for a probable-cause warrant or sniff. It would probably be changing the role to just locating marijuana, whether it would be in a house or a car, after you've already established probable cause. So it's certainly limited the use of those dogs.
DAVIS: So my understanding is that before this, police dogs weren't trained to differentiate between types of drugs.
LAAS: No. Now we're just going to go to most of the dogs will not have any marijuana training in them whatsoever. The primary purpose for most of the marijuana sniffs is now administrative - that will be through jails, schools and other types of locations that are federally funded and still illegal. The only thing this will do - it's going to hasten the retirement of those 20% or less that still are marijuana-trained in our state because of the fact that they're not able to utilize them for full functions.
DAVIS: Does this create conflict between state officers and federal law enforcement officers? Because obviously, on the federal level, marijuana is still illegal. And you obviously have federal law enforcement in your state. Is there any conflict there?
LAAS: There's not conflict. It's just limited our ability to help out the federal government for these kind of things. So it's limited their scope to where they either have to bring in their own, or they have to probably start supplying their own dogs or bringing them in from other states now. But no, it doesn't create a conflict. It's just we're not able to assist them as much as we had in the past.
DAVIS: How has the law enforcement community taken this ruling?
LAAS: It was totally expected. Because of the fact that we've seen this coming for so many years, most of the departments have geared up for it. Definitely in the smaller communities, they'll feel more of an impact. But the large departments have anticipated it and started preparation in their administrative uses of the dogs, those kind of things, and pre-retiring some of them.
DAVIS: Do you have a police dog?
LAAS: I do. I actually have a current police dog. He's a Dutch shepherd named Rudy. And he is not trained in marijuana. And I have a retired dog, Beaker, who was trained in marijuana. And that's one of the things, between that and medical, that made it an easier decision to retire him because of his lack of use for those things.
DAVIS: Well, give Rudy and Beaker some pets for all of us here at WEEKEND EDITION. Brian Laas, president of the Colorado Police K-9 Association, thank you so much.
LAAS: Thank you.
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