SWGDOG (Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal Detector Guidelines)
By Terry Fleck
Establishing best practices for detection teams improves interdiction efforts, as well as courtroom acceptance of dog alert evidence, by improving the consistency and performance of deployed detector dogs. SWGDOG was established at the same time the reliability of detector dogs was increasingly under attack because of limited peer-reviewed research and lack of best practices for the certification of teams.
While there were ongoing standardization efforts by major K9 organizations and U.S. law enforcement agencies, no consensus best practice guidelines existed. Initial work on forming a scientific working group on detector dogs began in June 2003 as a grassroots effort by members of academia, law enforcement and the private sector. In September 2004, SWGDOG bylaws were ratified, and in 2005, funding was secured and 55 SWGDOG members were selected with local, state, national and international representation.
SWGDOG Best Practices
A minimum standard is defined as the lowest acceptable criteria that define or establish uniform specification or characteristics for products or services. A best practice asserts that there is a technique, method, process, activity, incentive or reward that is more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other version of these.
Inherent in the best practice concept is a system of processes, checks and testing that will deliver an outcome that has fewer problems and fewer unforeseen complications. Best practices combine the attributes of the most efficient and most effective ways of accomplishing a task based on proven and provable methods. In best practices, documentation is essential and best practices must be documented and distributed before they can be used, cited and improved upon, so they actually encourage continuous improvement.
Best practices, regardless of the field in which they are applied, are usually considered to have five components: best skills; processes; solutions; appropriate resources; and the continuous improvement that results from the first four components.
Note that best practices are not rules, laws or standards which people are required to follow but rather are those processes, practices and systems widely recognized as improving an organization’s or field’s performance and efficiency. This means you can meet a standard in the field but still not observe best practices.
It is anticipated that these best practices will be incorporated into an organization’s certification standards and self-improving systems will be identified. Professional canine organizations may choose to incorporate these best practices into their certifications’ protocols – this is already happening with various organizations.
If an accreditation process comes to exist, many organizations will likely participate – this has occurred with best practices from working groups in other fields. If departments wishing to incorporate these best practices have difficulty doing so due to size, resources, etc., they may find a way to make this occur by cooperating with other groups, forming a broader network or taking advantage of grant opportunities which will likely be expanded.
The legal community will have a vested interest in ensuring that mechanisms are in place by which certification, adequate for legal standards, can occur when detector dogs are used in investigations.
Who are the SWGDOG Members?
What SWGDOG Isn’t
SWGDOG is not a new certification organization. SWGDOG is not in the certification business. However, certificate-granting agencies and organizations may choose to become accredited if an independent accrediting body is ever established following the SWGDOG guidelines (which has happened with other working groups).
SWGDOG is not an elitist organization, unresponsive to the community. As a practical matter, SWGDOG has a limited membership of 55 to balance diversity with a manageable working size. Every effort has been made to ensure a diverse representation of agency affiliation, area of expertise, job function and geographical location. Furthermore, public comment is a critical part of creating the guidelines. All draft guidelines will be available to the public for comment via the SWGDOG website for at least 60 days.
How do I Become a Member of SWGDOG or a Guest at a SWGDOG Meeting?
Terry Fleck is a deputy sheriff II/canine handler (retired) from Lake Tahoe, Calif. He has 27 years of experience in law enforcement and K-9. An expert in canine legalities, Terry has authored Canine Legal Update and Opinions for supervisors and administrators, plus patrol, narcotics, explosives, tracking, search and rescue and accelerant detection dogs. Terry can be reached on his web site at www.k9fleck.org.
SWGDOG Workflow Process
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