Nov 04, 2009

Police dog lineups- round up the usual scents

Police officers commonly bring trained sniffer dogs to crime scenes to pick up scents and track suspecta to nearby hiding spots.  Dog scent lineups take this approach a large step further.  Dog scent lineups occur when police officers give a dog crime-scene related objects to smell.  The officers then present the dog with containers swabbed with sample objects taken from different people.  If the dog reacts to the scent in one of the containers, does that mean that the person from whom an object was taken was at the crime scene?

Curvis Bickham's sad story suggests that the answer might be "No."  Poor Bickham sat in jail for 8 months after the results of a dog scent lineup conducted by Texas Deputy Sheriff Keith Picket led the police to arrest Bickham for killing 3 people.  When someone else finally confessed to the murders, the police realized that the dog had barked up the wrong tree and released Bickham from jail.

Curvis is not the only victim of Picket's charge.  Another of Picket's dog scent lineups led the police to arrest Ronald Curtis for committing a string of burglaries.  Curtis sat in jail for 9 months, until the police realized that store videos of the burglaries proved that Curtis looked nothing like the burglar.

Injustices like these probably won't stop Picket and others from conducting dog scent lineups.  We continue to search for reliable forensic methods of proof, and at least police dogs don't have motives to lie.  But until we can be more confident that dogs are properly trained and standards for conducting dog scent lineups properly emerge, dog scent lineups emit a foul odor.