Ruling has little effect on DeKalb’s K-9 unit

By Nina Gougis

A court ruling prohibiting routine use of drug-sniffing dogs during traffic stops will have little effect on police procedures in DeKalb County, said Lt. Van Bomar of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s office.

The Dec. 5 Illinois Supreme Court ruling states that to conduct a sniff search of a car, an officer needs reasonable suspicion of the presence of drugs.

Bomar said the department has had a similar policy requiring officers to have probable cause for a sniff search. Overly intrusive and inappropriate searches have not been a problem in the past.

The ACLU has argued the searches violate the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable search and seizure.

Bomar said the use of dogs has been beneficial because the dogs’ heightened sense of smell allows them to detect well-hidden drugs.

Ed Yohnka, communications director for the Illinois ACLU, said the use of the dogs themselves is not the problem. Rather, it is the routine use of dogs for unwarranted searches that violates privacy rights.

He said officers should have evidence of drug presence before a search is carried out.

“Unwarranted searches [whether with a dog or an officer] cannot replace good, solid investigatory work in which there is reason to suspect that an individual is involved in illegal activity,” Yohnka said.

DeKalb Police Lt. Carl Leoni said there have been no complaints about overly intrusive dog searches. Any officers using a dog have had probable cause, he said.

Bomar said the old policy will continue in accordance with the new ruling.