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SWGDOG (Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal Detector Guidelines)

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the pages of K-9 COP Magazine. It is reprinted by permission of the publisher and presented in partnership with our friends at K-9 COP Magazine in an ongoing effort to provide handlers and non-handlers with the best information available on issues that affect any department that has, or is considering getting, K-9 capabilities. We wish to thank the good folks at K-9 COP Magazine for this article and those they will provide in the future.

By Terry Fleck
There are only approximately 14 states that have a state standard and certification for police service dogs. Only two states actually mandate the standard and certification and enforce it. Therefore, in 48 states, anyone can be a K-9 handler and any dog can be a police service dog. There is no regulation of what the minimum requirements are to be a K-9 team. This lack of standards and certification concerns many at the local and state levels, as well as the federal government, as many federal law enforcement agencies use allied agencies, such as state and local agencies, to assist them. Historically, state and local K-9 units have routinely assisted federal agencies.

SWGDOG Background
To provide leadership to all of the law enforcement K-9 industry, SWGDOG, Scientific Working Group on Dog & Orthogonal* detector Guidelines, (orthogonal refers to mutually independent methods of detecting items of interest such as using different detection and identification modalities) was established to develop consensus-based best practices to enhance the performance of detector dog teams and to optimize their use in combination with electronic detectors. SWGDOG is collaboratively funded by the FBI, NIJ and DHS, and all work product is available free of charge at www.swgdog.org.

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
SWGDOG is not a certification group; it is a scientific working group. As such, its mandate focuses on the meld of what’s known scientifically and how to use this knowledge to augment the skills of canine handlers and supervisors within the law enforcement community and private sector. A standard can be defined as an established or widely-recognized model of authority or excellence, as a reference point against which other things can be evaluated or the ideal in terms of which something can be judged. Standards usually define or establish uniform specification or characteristics for products or services.

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?
SWGDOG requires participation from local, state, national and international members. The current 55 SWGDOG members are listed on the web site at www.swgdog.org under “Membership.”

What SWGDOG Isn’t
SWGDOG is not a mandate. SWGDOG is developing scientifically-supported, consensus-based, best practice guidelines to be made available as a resource for the entire detection community. There is no mandate for any organization to change its policies and practices.

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?
The membership of SWGDOG is relatively stable, however there are occasional openings. The best way to apply is on the web site home page. Click on SWGDOG Membership Applicant Resume Form. You must apply to be a guest at a SWGDOG meeting, and can do so by clicking on SWGDOG Guest Applicant Resume Form on the web site home page.

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.

In Brief:
SWGDOG Mission
• To discuss and share ideas regarding methods, protocols, quality assurance, education and research;
• To bring together organizations and/or individuals actively pursuing relevant analysis methods;
• To cooperate with other national and international organizations in developing relevant standards;
• To monitor and disseminate research and technology related to the discipline;
• To recommend and disseminate consensus-based, best practice-based guidelines for quality assurance and quality control;
• To maintain a centralized web site for ongoing information exchange and dissemination at www.swgdog.org.

SWGDOG Subcommittees
1. Unified terminology
2. General guidelines
3. Selection of dogs
4. Kenneling and health care
5. Selection and training of handlers and instructors
6. Presenting evidence in court
7. Research and technology
8. Training and certification of substance dogs: explosives, accelerants, narcotics, agriculture
9. Training and certification of scent dogs: tracking, trailing, scent ID, SAR, article

SWGDOG Workflow Process
• Chair/executive committee assign task to subcommittee
• Subcommittee produces draft document
• SWGDOG members review draft document
• Subcommittee revises draft document
• SWGDOG members vote to approve draft
• SWGDOG Executive Board votes to approve draft
• Public comments on draft guideline disseminated via web site
• Subcommittee revises document as necessary
• SWGDOG members vote to approve final document
• SWGDOG executive board votes to approve final document

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