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Record Keeping Basics

Volumes can be written on proper report writing and how important it is to ensure reports are written in a clear and concise manner that include all the facts of either training or actual incident deployment. It is vital that whatever record keeping program or system you have in place for your agency, whether it is KATS, another software product or in some agencies, internal paperwork, that you don’t invite scrutiny because of poorly prepared reports or by capturing data that is potentially damaging.  This doesn’t infer that you capture data selectively. On the contrary it is imperative that you capture data thoroughly and honestly.  However, it is unwise to capture information that is unnecessary or that can be misinterpreted through improper design.

Before KATS was ever created, every agency maintained their records with hand written or typed reports.  As technology has advanced we have had the ability to improve our ability to clarify the information we collect and disseminate.  As technology has advanced, so have our nations’ laws, our training techniques as well as our policies and procedures. 

In the years of developing KATS in the past, and even currently, we have seen copies of records as well as other record keeping software programs that actively score false alerts on detection deployments.  In some cases, they go as far as to score and valuate K9 reliability on live deployment alerts, and produce extensive reports based on the number of alerts the dog has on live deployments where no substance was found compared to the number of alerts the dog has where the product being searched for was found. Why would you continue to produce this information and disseminate it to be questioned in the courts when the issue of false alerts has been struck down by the Supreme Court?  To do so can only bring confusion during a case. There is no need to collect the information, yet by doing so, you open yourself to more scrutiny. This can easily be avoided by simply following what is required by case law.

Florida v. Harris (Case Shown Below) addresses both false alerts, and K-9 reliability. Reliability can only come from training and certification.  In fact the US Supreme Court has stated, Even if a drug detection dog has not completed a formal certification program, the court can presume, subject to any conflicting evidence offered, that the dog’s alert provides probable cause to search, if the dog has recently and successfully completed a training program that evaluated his proficiency in locating drugs.” 

Other electronic K9 record keeping programs have in the past also created formulas that are designed to produce reports that demonstrate the “scent threshold” of a dog by inputting specific information during training that calculates that supposed threshold. This has created unnecessary complications for agencies that seemingly track this information and then subsequently must try to explain it in court and how it relates to the reliability of the dog.  In reality, “scent threshold” can only be properly determined by quantifying studies in scientifically controlled environments.  To infer that in general K9 training you can determine a “scent threshold” on a dog is false, and when types of reports such as this become part of the training records released to a defense attorney or are introduced into court, it only creates unnecessary confusion, serves no legitimate purpose and it will be challenged.  When issues such as this occur, it has the potential to discredit the officer and the agency, and to set bad precedent which is something the K9 industry can ill afford.  It is important to remember that should bad case law result from flaws such as this, even by a single agency, it can affect the entire industry across the country. Therefore, it is important that record keeping and its subsequent use in the courts is efficient, absolutely correct in detail and that it provides the appropriate information.       

Another issue of concern is training records that show a dog is successful 100% of the time during training profiles.  In the past, this type of record keeping back in the era of the 1990’s was common. This stemmed from the philosophies of trainers who taught that you always ensured the success of the dog in every training profile. Every track, every search, virtually every exercise was set up in such a way that the dog always succeeded one way or another.  In doing so, you would record that the dog was 100% no matter what exercise or training profile was being performed.

It did not take long before training records that showed the dog was performing at 100% efficiency were being questioned by the courts. There is no such thing as a perfect dog and over time these claims were being questioned, raising doubts about the value of these training records and subsequently the reality of the true abilities of the dogs. 

As a result of challenges to the credibility of the records being kept that showed 100% proficiency levels, it was learned that it is wise to document any training issues that occur and the steps taken to resolve those issues, along with the subsequent results. This approach provides records that provide credibility and demonstrates that the agency is taking the appropriate steps to maintain high standards of performance.

Whether you are using in house software, hand written documentation or commercial level products to track your training, ensure that you record your training events clearly and honestly. Include all training problems or failures on the part of the dog, as well as the steps to correct any deficit or under performance in training.  This gives you credibility and provides performance standards that shows your training is up to standard and how training deficits are handled quickly and efficiently to maintain certification capability.  If you have a record keeping system that is showing 100% performance in any given training profile, serious consideration needs to be made to consider making changes to how you record your training performance.  In the end, failing to do so may put your unit credibility at risk.

Florida v. Harris

U.S. Supreme Court
133 S.Ct. 1050 – February 19, 2013

The Court unanimously held that the Florida Supreme Court erred when it “created a strict evidentiary checklist” a state must satisfy to establish that an alert by a drug-detection dog provided probable cause to search a car. The Court concluded that “if a bona fide organization has certified a dog after testing his reliability in a controlled setting” (or “if the dog has recently and successfully completed a training program”), “a court can presume (subject to any conflicting evidence offered) that the dog’s alert provides probable cause to search.” 

The Court criticized the Florida state court for treating field-performance records as more probative of the dog’s reliability than its training and certification records, which stem from controlled environments, and concluded that evidence of training, even without certification, can be sufficient to establish reliability. The Court emphasized that the defendant must have the opportunity to challenge the dog’s reliability by cross-examining the handler and presenting expert evidence.

A Police officer has probable cause to conduct search when facts available to him would warrant person of reasonable caution in belief that contraband or evidence of crime is present.

Test for probable cause to search is not reducible to precise definition or quantification, and finely tuned standards such as proof beyond reasonable doubt or by preponderance of evidence have no place in probable-cause decision. All that is required is the kind of “fair probability” on which reasonable and prudent people, not legal technicians, act.

To establish that a drug detection dog is reliable, the State need not, in every case, present exhaustive set of records, including log of dog’s performance in the field. That approach would be inconsistent with flexible, common-sense standard of probable cause. Dog’s field performances are not the gold standard in evidence, when in most cases they have relatively limited import. Errors may abound in such records.

Evidence of a drug detection dog’s satisfactory performance in certification or training program can itself provide sufficient reason to trust his alert. If a bona fide organization has certified a dog after testing his reliability in controlled setting, court can presume, subject to any conflicting evidence offered, that dog’s alert provides probable cause to search.

Even if a drug detection dog has not completed a formal certification program, the court can presume, subject to any conflicting evidence offered, that dog’s alert provides probable cause to search, if dog has recently and successfully completed training program that evaluated his proficiency in locating drugs.

Defendant must have opportunity to challenge evidence of drug detection dog’s reliability, whether by cross-examining testifying officer or by introducing his own fact or expert witnesses.

If a dog on patrol fails to alert to a car containing drugs, the mistake usually will go undetected because the officer will not initiate a search. Field data thus may not capture a dog’s false negatives. Conversely (and more relevant here), if the dog alerts to a car in which the officer finds no narcotics, the dog may not have made a mistake at all. The dog may have detected substances that were too well hidden or present in quantities too small for the officer to locate.

Or the dog may have smelled the residual odor of drugs previously in the vehicle or on the driver’s person. Field data thus may markedly overstate a dog’s real false positives. By contrast, those inaccuracies—in either direction—do not taint records of a dog’s performance in standard training and certification settings. There, the designers of an assessment know where drugs are hidden and where they are not—and so where a dog should alert and where he should not. The better measure of a dog’s reliability thus comes away from the field, in controlled testing environments.

Harris cooked and used methamphetamine on a regular basis; so as Handler Wheetley later surmised, K-9 Aldo likely responded to odors that Harris had transferred to the driver’s-side door handle of his truck. A well-trained drug-detection dog should alert to such odors; his response to them might appear a mistake, but in fact is not.

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