An aviation security conundrum: Sniff my junk?

While police K-9s are prevented from sniffing human beings in typical law enforcement settings — entry to prisons notwithstanding, of course — bringing K-9 explosives detection out of the cargo hold and into the airport security lines may make a lot of sense

The 2010 Holiday season had newspaper pages and cable newscasts full of concern over our safety: Printer cartridges with explosives in cargo planes, package bombs at embassies, and continued concern over suicide bombers smuggling explosives onto passenger planes on their person. The last example gave rise to privacy debates over backscatter scanners logging images of citizens in government databases, and very thorough physical pat downs.

Last year I wrote an article comparing the effectiveness of high-tech explosives detection solutions with the relatively low-tech approach of using canines. There really is no argument that in fact, when K-9s are well-trained, well-handled and well-maintained, they are one of the best methods for locating explosive contraband. Many people are aware of their use in airports through the TSA as well as state and local law enforcement detailed to the airports around the country. However in this article I want to suggest another use.

In prisons all over the country, dogs are used as part of the layered security system to detect the illegal smuggling of contraband into prisons. Dogs are trained to sniff visitors to be sure they are not carrying illegal drugs, cigarettes, cell phones, and the like into prisons.

That’s right, they sniff people.

This is not done in law enforcement outside of prisons due to 4th Amendment case law. I would argue that security measures in airports are already significantly invasive. While backscatter scanners and pat downs are continually criticized for going “too far” in the trade-off between security and personal liberty, I think we should have a discussion about expanding the use of K-9s in airway and railway transit policing. At airports at present, K-9s are used only for screening cargo going onto cargo planes. I think they should be part of a layered approach that needs to be significantly increased — they could easily be used for screening passengers getting onto flights.

There will be objections. Some people are afraid of dogs, and some will have religious objections to being sniffed by a dog. I think we can design a process where dog teams are used to scan people through a porous barrier at which people are waiting in line. Let’s remember that dogs already scan for contraband agricultural items and drugs in baggage claim areas.

If explosives are hidden on a person — say in a vest or waist belt under clothes — the dog is extremely capable of sourcing this based on the volatile odor emanating from the explosives. Further, if the explosives were hidden in a body cavity, the K-9 has the best chance of identifying this compared to any other technology we have at our disposal. I won’t explain the details on why that’s the case.

Compared to the backscatter technology — which is extremely expensive — canines could more quickly and less invasively provide much the same service in identifying explosives. I think it is a debate worth having. Americans constantly put their faith in high technology, but one could argue that this low-tech solution is not only more cost effective — although it is cheaper — but because it can be more widely employed it is simply more effective overall. In my opinion, we would need to have private companies provide some of this service, and as I have argued before, we need to look more to private-public partnerships in the provision of security.

We use contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide canine explosives detection at many of the military bases there. The government sets the standards for the certification of the canines, and the private companies provide the manpower, so there is already precedent. We must talk about improving our detection capabilities, while still balancing security with our personal liberty.

About the author

Girard William “Jerry” Bradshaw is the CEO and Training Director for Tarheel Canine Training, Inc. of Sanford, North Carolina. Jerry is a professional consultant to various Police agencies and private corporations for K9 training & deployment. Jerry is often featured speaker at Police K9 conferences and has been invited to instruct at workshops and seminars around the country. Jerry has written articles for Dog Sport Magazine and Police K9 Magazine, and is the author of the forthcoming book Controlled Aggression in Theory & Practice, which is available for purchase here.

Jerry is a co-founder, Judge, and East Coast Director of one of the fastest growing protection dog sports in America, widely recognized as the single most difficult protection sport there is, PSA. Jerry is also a co-founding director of the National Tactical Police Dog Association which applies many of the same successful scenario-based principles found in PSA to the certification of police dogs.

Jerry has competed in National Championship trials in both Schutzhund and PSA, winning the PSA national championships in 2003 with his dog Ricardo V.D. Naaturzicht. Jerry is the only competitor to train 2 dogs to the PSA 3 level, and has achieved the SchH 3 level numerous times, with “V” scores. Tarheel Canine Training is a nationally renowned training facility for police service dogs, and has placed trained police dogs at various federal, state, and local agencies nationally and internationally since 1994. For more information on Tarheel Canine Training, or Jerry Bradshaw, please click here.

Jerry’s latest book, Controlled Aggression in Theory & Practice, was written for police K9 professionals and covers basic foundation training such as testing green K9 prospects for patrol suitability, training drive development, drive channeling, working in the bite suit, human orientation (combating equipment orientation). The book further features key skills training including training guarding behavior, out on command, redirected bites and the out and return, and the best way to train a call off with little to no pressure on the dog. If you have trouble with the recall (call-off) exercise being reliable, the information alone on training the call off in a new and different way is worth the price of the book hands down. Order your copy by clicking hereclicking here.

Contact Jerry Bradshaw

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