Dog Day at the Law School: Local K-9 Unit Demonstrates Tactics for Students
Charlottesville Police K-9 officer Lynn Childers and Leo, a 4-year-old Belgian malinois, visited Professor Anne Coughlin's Criminal Investigation class recently at the University of Virginia School of Law to give students a firsthand look at police dog procedures.
"To understand the value of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, it's essential to pay close attention to how the police interpret and deploy it on a daily basis out there in the places where they work," Coughlin said. "Officer Childers brings this body of law to life in the classroom, and she does so brilliantly."
Childers, she added, "knows everything there is to know about policing in general and about K-9 policing in particular, and she unfolds for us the way in which the police incorporate Fourth Amendment doctrine into their moment-to-moment decision-making on the street."
Childers described to the law students how she and Leo perform their duties in accordance with the law and policies of the Charlottesville Police Department. Leo, she said, is cross-trained to be able search for narcotics, apprehend suspects, and locate people or evidence.
"I think of the dog as another tool in my belt," she said. "But the dog is obviously different than something like a gun or a Taser. It's a living, breathing thing, you know? There's so much more that comes into play. It's also one of the rare tools that you can actually recall. I send that dog off 50 yards after a guy and the wrong person walks into the scene or the guy gives up, I can tell the dog to stop and come back. You can't do that with a bullet."
To demonstrate Leo's ability to sniff out illegal drugs, Childers placed five of the law students' volunteered backpacks around the classroom, as well as one of her own that had drugs inside. As she walked Leo around the room, he ignored all of the backpacks except the one containing drugs.
"It's just a game to him," Childers, as she rewarded Leo with his favorite rolled-up towel. "To him, he's searching so he can get his toy and play tug-of-war with mommy."
Childers called Leo a "high-octane," but highly trained partner. "My little guy is pretty calm in the back of my car most of the time," she said. "But when he gets fired up, he gets fired up."
As Childers talked, Leo jumped up and down, trying to get her to keep tugging on his towel.
"As you can see," she said, "I have a desk job in law enforcement."
Coughlin called Childers' classroom visit "dynamic and thoughtful," but also timely, as the Supreme Court is considering a Fourth Amendment case — Florida v. Jardines — that involves the use of police dogs to detect drugs around the exteriors of homes.
"Officer Childers gave us the police perspective concerning the whole range of issues — practical, logistical, ethical and legal — that should inform the court's decision," she said. "In terms of a classroom experience, it just doesn't get better than this."