One of the most important aspects of being a canine handler is documentation. The courts look to the handler to maintain accurate records of what training and deployments the canine has been involved with. Without this important documentation the canine could be found not reliable and cause the handler to lose cases in court. Let's look at several areas that will benefit you as the handler and make your court testimony or presentation top notch. In this article we will discuss the various reports (written vs. computer), training and deployments.
There are several ways you can capture this information. Some handlers use hand written reports while others use a computer canine tracking program. Each has their benefits. Hand written reports can be completed fast and most times on the scene. Computer programs tend to take longer and have to be completed at a later time. One added benefit to computer programs is the ability to generate monthly reports instantly. Canine tracking software tends to look more professional than handwritten reports. Regardless of which reporting system is in place for your agencies make sure that your reporting is consistent.
I use a computer tracking program for my daily canine related activities. These reports consist of deployments, canine team daily logs and training. I generally try and add the information to the program at the end of my shift. Once the information is recorded into the program I can generate numerous reports and can even customize the reports.
Training is the most important area for us, as handlers, to make a difference in whether or not our canine programs are successful. It doesn't matter which national accreditation you choose; the important thing is that you be certified as a canine team every year. Most agencies have a policy stating that the canine team must train and maintain to a nationally accepted standard, which can be through the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA) or the American Police Canine Association (APCA). There are a few more associations that certify police canines as well. During your training scenarios you want to make sure that all areas are covered, tracking, narcotic searches, both buildings and vehicles, and various bite work. Below is information about a case relating to training issues and lack of documentation.
Case: Matheson v. State, 28 FLW D1791, 2nd DCA
Date: August 8, 2003
FACTS: A trained drug detection dog, Razor, alerted on a vehicle during a routine traffic stop. This provided probable cause to search the vehicle and deputies found assorted drugs in the glove compartment. The defense moved to suppress the drugs on the basis that Razor's ability to detect drugs was unreliable. The prosecution presented Razor's trainer who testified that the dog received training through the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) and was certified by the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA). The defense countered with an expert who testified that the HCSO training is deficient. He stated that there was (1) inadequate training for searching vehicles, (2) lack of training for small quantities of drugs, (3) failure to plant novel odors during the training sessions, (4) there was no controlled negative testing, (5) no extinction training was provided which would discourage the dog from alerting on common items sometimes associated with drugs, and (6) the training did not include "stimulus generalization" which conditions the dog trained on one class of drugs to alert on all drugs in that class. The expert also disparaged that USPCA certification in that (1) there was no controlled negative testing, (2) the training searches were limited to ten minutes instead of "real world" time for searches, (3) the organization requires only a seventy percent proficiency to be certified, and (4) they fail to focus on the dog's ability to detect narcotics as opposed to analyzing the ability of the dog and handler as a team. It should also be noted that Razor's handler admitted that he did not maintain a record of the canine's false alert rate. The trial judge upheld the search and the defendant appealed.
RULING: The appellate court suppressed the evidence. The court acknowledged that previous cases have held that training and certification of a canine establishes prima facie proof that the dog is reliable. However, this does not preclude the defense from introducing evidence to rebut this assumption. Based on the testimony in this particular case, the court ruled that the training Razor received together with the lack of performance history created doubts as to the canine's reliability. Therefore, his alert did not give the handler probable cause to search the vehicle.
This type of case is why it is vital to maintain proper documentation for a canine program, written or computer generated. These reports need to be maintained and easily accessible to the handler, courts, or the agency upon demand.
Deployments are another area that can easily be linked to training; it's what we train for. Depending on the type of computer program you use you can determine what type of information that is placed into the reports. I am able to add real time weather information, photos, maps, and drug/cash seizure information. The software also allows for a GPS tracking system to be added to a canine track and transposes this track over GoogleMaps. This creates a very detailed and professional looking map. It also has a feature where weights are calculated as well as cash finds. I can ask the program to generate a report on a particular find and it place it into a professional looking format. This program will generate reports based on hours, days, months, quarterly, yearly and lifetime. The program will even assist in creating a use of force report if your canine team was involved in a bite. When the monthly reports are generated I have real time access to the amount of drug seizures, to include the total weights of all drugs seized in each category, total cash seizure to the penny, and property seizures which could include vehicles and/or other stolen properties.
So in closing, it is important to maintain proper documentation. Failure to do so can result in the loss of your case, or even the canine being ruled unreliable. It is much better to document the canine activities instead of guessing at them. There are numerous canine software programs available on the internet that can be used for trial periods. They aren't that expensive and can even be tailored to your specific agencies. If you have any questions and/or want to inquire about which software I've tested and have used please feel free to email me.