Police across America are confronting an inconvenient truth: Drug-sniffing dogs are bad at sniffing out drugs.
Across the country, records of K-9 units are rife with false positives. And even better than being erratic, drug dogs (or their handlers) also suffer from pronounced racial bias. According to a Chicago Tribune review, drug dogs were almost twice as likely to falsely alert to a suspect if he or she was Latino.
This sounds bad. It almost sounds like a violation of civil rights. From a law-enforcement perspective, this is just fine.
What most police departments are really after is easily forfeitable cash, and since most money in circulation in America has some trace of drugs on it—as much as 90 percent of the country’s paper money is contaminated with at least a trace level of cocaine—everything works out great!
“If they want your money, they’ll get Fido to alert to it,” one defense attorney once told SF Weekly. “And Fido alerts to everything.”
This is bad—so bad, it’s almost a joke.
In Avondale, Arizona, it is a joke—a joke that’s gone on for over a year, ever since the Avondale Police Department first announced the enlistment of a “drug-sniffing bearded dragon.”
Last April 1, cops in the Phoenix suburb first announced via Facebook the addition to its ranks of “Iroh” the bearded dragon. Here he is, along with a cop with an inexhaustible supply of hair gel but aim almost as shaky as his local K-9’s sense of smell.
Initially conceived as a social media stunt to drive traffic to the Avondale Police Department’s Facebook page, Iroh apparently proved so popular that the “joke” was extended to this year. On April 13, to much fanfare and more earned media than we thought possible, Iroh was officially “sworn in” by Chief Dale Nannenga last week.
Please credit the chief with maintaining a straight face throughout the affair.
As CNET deduced, Iroh is a glorified prop, used in cops’ social media posts to appear friendly and cool. Some news outlets were less credulous than others in dutifully reporting the “news.”
From a poor hapless rube at UPI, whose pockets are presumably bursting with wooden nickels, with which he will purchase a bridge, shortly after receiving from his newfound Nigerian relatives’ stupendous inheritance:
The department said Iroh was originally brought in after officials reviewed research indicating reptiles have a strong enough sense of smell to make them more effective than dogs at detecting some types of narcotics.
“Research has shown that reptiles possess a strong sense of smell making their ability to detect certain illicit drugs possibly more accurate than K9s,” the department said last year. “Our pilot program drug sniffing bearded dragon will be assisting Officers in the City. Please help us welcome Iroh!”
Because, as we all know, there is nothing greater than a recycled April Fool’s joke, particularly if the joke is recycled on April 13.
In theory, hiring a lizard could be more than a social media friendly stunt (though it is definitely sharebait).
Prized as pets for their winning personalities, according to the Cincinnati Zoo, bearded dragons are able to detect very subtle changes in the surrounding environment and “sample” food without actually taking a bite. These lizards have in their palates a sensory organ, called “Jacobson’s organ,” linked directly to the brain which interprets chemical stimuli.
As for training the lizard? We have you covered. All we need is a long-term contract and payment up front. Whenever the lizard seeks heat or wants a snack, it’s an alert.
And should Iroh wear thin, there are other animals in nature’s kingdom with sophisticated olfactory skills that police might recruit.
As National Geographic helpfully pointed out, rats, mice, honeybees, fruit flies and—yes—robots can all smell so well that they can detect the presence of a serious illness on a patients’ breath. The next time you swat at the cloud of flies swarming over that bunch of overripe bananas, have some respect.
Meanwhile, drug dogs are indeed becoming obsolete—even the few good at their jobs. Unless a dog is trained to no longer detect cannabis and only hard drugs of note—which are the hardest to detect—legal states will be full of Fidos pointing out legal pot or harmless cash.
Some humorless researchers believe that honeybees could actually be used to replace canines in drug detection—no joke. Make sure you know drug detection times to CYA in case bees come after you. If only the Pentagon had any surplus bee-keepers’ suits.