“Police and Military Dogs: Criminal Detection, Forensic Evidence and Judicial Admissibility”

By John J. Ensminger. CRC Press. $79.95.

K-9 unit assignments are one of the most coveted in police departments and military units worldwide. The handlers provide solid backup and expertise for fellow officers and a positive public persona, but the intense challenges of these tightly-knit teams is generally unknown.

The author, an attorney and noted consultant on canine legal issues, takes the reader behind the scenes in this thorough examination, crafted chiefly for professionals in the field. Nevertheless, if you’ve ever wondered about police protocols, forensic science and rigorous legal scrutiny associated with police and military K-9 work, you’ll find the answer inside this 333-page volume.

This is not training manual or procedural guide, rather a detailed overview of challenges involved in sniffs involving vehicles, luggage, transportation facilities, hotels, mail and packages, storage areas, cargo and commercial spaces, residences, currency and schools, etc. And then there are the demands of explosives, landmine, bioweapons, accelerant and cadaver detection.

In addressing canine biology and behavior, the author says some trainers introduce target scents to future narcotic detecting canine candidates at just 10 days of age, although nine to 10 weeks is more common, adding that trained dogs can remember different odors for months.

Even when performed to exact specifications, a team’s work faces judicial challenges around every corner, Ensminger emphasizes, and a lack of judicial uniformity from state to state. In the process, he cites dozens of cases. “The
admissibility of canine evidence is not solely determined by the quality of the forensics work involved. Some states regard the possible prejudice of tracking and scent identification as so great that they decline to admit this evidence
at all.”

Ensminger says police and military canine functions are divided into four general categories:

  • tracking, trailing and identification;
  • suspect apprehension and crowd control;
  • detection;
  • rescue and protection.

He adds, “Police dogs are a two-edged sword, capable of helping law enforcement but also capable of doing great damage to the lives of those they encounter. That damage may sometimes be necessary, but police men and women doing canine work know that they have been given a tool as dangerous as the guns in their holsters.”

The author’s broad-based thoroughness is reflected in the 42-page appendix dedicated to a listing of U.S. police canine associations, a bibliography and federal and state cases cited.

Ambitious and complex, “Police and Military Dogs” leaves the reader with a greater appreciation of the demands and expertise expected of these handler-dog teams not only in the field but also inside the judicial environment, too.