Q&A on Suffolk's drug-sniffing dogs

Smithtown school officials have been talking to the Suffolk County Police Department about letting its canine unit train drug-sniffing dogs at the district's two high schools. All of Suffolk's police dogs are trained as patrol dogs to find living humans. Dogs then have specialties in bombs/ guns, drugs or cadaver detection.

How do police know if a dog has found drugs?

It will either scratch or bite in the area of the drug, said Suffolk Police Lt. Brian Coltellino.

How long would the residual smell of drugs remain in a locker such that a dog could detect it?

It depends on the quantity of the drug, how long it was in the locker, and what it was stored in. "If it's in a locker overnight, the smell could still last 10 to 12 hours," said James Greco, consultant for Long Island K-9 Service. "If something is in the locker all school day and taken out, that could quite possibly . . . last 12 hours or more - even until the following day."

Andy Hanellin, owner of Dogs by Andy K-9 Services, said if a drug were in a plastic bag in a locker just once, the smell would likely last only 5 to 15 minutes after removal.

Are there any legal questions involved in police dogs finding drugs on school premises during training exercises?

No, according to some legal experts.

"Randomly finding something that was not intentionally being searched for doesn't implicate any search and seizure issues," said Eric Freedman, a constitutional law professor at Hofstra Law School.

But Leon Friedman, also a constitutional law professor at Hofstra, said dogs sniffing is inherently a search. "If it's conducted by the police, it has to comply with the Fourth Amendment," he said. "The Fourth Amendment requires probable cause before you can actually do the search."
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