Dogs are now being deployed in some cool ways. While some states are eliminating the use of dogs, or at the very least, deeming their use as an illegal search, Connecticut is setting what could be a new trend in K9 policing methods.

It’s also not without concern and controversy.

Four Connecticut State Police K9 teams graduated from the very first Firearm Detection K9 Training Class. These teams, having trained for six weeks, learned to detect the presence of firearms and spent ammunition shell casings.

 

The graduating class include: CSP Bureau of Criminal Investigations-Organized Crime Task Force Detective Peter Maronde & K9 Darlene; Hartford Police Department Violent Crime Unit Detective Mark Roskowski & K9 Vanguard; Meriden Police Department Neighborhood Initiative Officer James Decrisantis & K9 Mika; CSP Special Licensing & Firearms Unit Trooper First Class Joe Narcisse & K9 Rocky.

The training program, developed by the Connecticut State Police, is the first of its kind in New England.

State police said, “the K9s will now be able to assist police in fighting gun violence in communities by identifying and alerting their handler to a specific person armed with a concealed firearm in a crowded area, like an airport, train station, school, mall, or sports stadium.”

Firearm Detection is a new capability within the CSP K-9 training program. Training and certification standards were researched, developed, and instituted by the Connecticut State Police K9 Training Unit and were subsequently adopted by the New England State Police Administrator’s Conference (NESPAC) as the standard for all Firearm Detection K-9s trained and certified by every New England State Police Department.

The training methodology developed is unique and is completely proprietary to the Connecticut State Police K9 Training Unit and has proven very effective in both training and criminal investigative deployments.

With that said, there are obvious concerns being raised about it.  Some wonder if it’s going to be used in conjunction with the liberal state’s Red Flag laws.  Others have raised concerns over the impact on law abiding citizens.

Think about it like this.  If a drug sniffing dog detects cocaine, that’s something that’s illegal. Nobody has a permit or a Constitutionally guaranteed right to carry cocaine.  

But on the drug front, Connecticut’s program is in stark contrast to Colorado, where a state appeals court ruled last week that the presence of marijuana in a car, detected by drug-sniffing police dogs, does not provide probable cause for police to search the vehicle.

In a precedent-setting case (People of the State of Colorado v. Kevin Keith McKnight), a three-judge panel ruling affirmed that law enforcement officers need more than a dog’s warning in order to search a vehicle.

Why? Because in Colorado, marijuana is legal. Judge Daniel Dailey wrote in his ruling that it could be legal marijuana in the certain vehicle:

“Because Amendment 64 legalized possession for personal use of one ounce or less of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older in Colorado, it is no longer accurate to say, at least as a matter of state law, that an alert by a dog which can detect marijuana — but not specific amounts — can reveal only the presence of ‘contraband.”

Two years ago, police officers pulled over a truck driven by McKnight for allegedly making a turn without using a signal. A drug-sniffing police dog named Kilo alerted the officers that drugs were in the truck. Despite a motion by McKnight’s attorney to suppress that search, Moffat County District Judge Michael O’Hara allowed evidence found from it. McKnight was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a controlled substance.

But the appeals court said that since marijuana is legal, and the dog could not tell officers what he was sniffing, the officers did not have enough probable cause to conduct the search.

Dailey said the dog sniffing the vehicle could “infringe upon a legitimate expectation of privacy.

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According to the ruling:

Since 2012, it has not been a violation of Colorado law for pe ople who are at least twenty-one years old to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use.  Colo. Const. art. XVIII, § 16(3)(a) Amendment 64).  To be clear, such possession is neither a criminal violation nor a civil violation. 

This case presents two questions arising from our state’s marijuana laws and law enforcement’s use of dogs trained to detect marijuana and other controlled substances. 

First, does deploying a dog trained to detect marijuana to sniff a legitimately stopped vehicle constitute a “search” for purposes of the constitutional prohibitions of unreasonable searches?  If so, law enforcement may not deploy such a dog without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. 

Second, did the dog’s alert in this case give police probable cause to search Kevin Keith McKnight’s truck given that the dog was trained to alert if he detected either legal or illegal substances?  

Two of us (Dailey and Berger, JJ.) agree with McKnight in answer to the first question, that is, that under our state constitution, the deployment of the dog here was a “search” requiring reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. And because the totality of the relevant circumstances did not give police reasonable suspicion to conduct a dog sniff of his truck, we conclude that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence found in the truck.  

But two of us (J. Jones and Berger, JJ.) would also agree with McKnight in answer to the second question, that is, that the dog’s alert, in combination with the other relevant circumstances, did not give the police probable cause to search his truck, and, for that reason, the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence found in the truck. 

Because all of us agree that the court’s error in denying McKnight’s motion to suppress was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, we reverse the district court’s judgment of conviction and remand the case for further proceedings.

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