Despite a Supreme Court ruling, law enforcement agencies in Wichita County said it will not affect how they catch criminals.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police can't drag out traffic stops so that drug-sniffing dogs can check vehicles. It was specifically tied to a case in Nebraska where they have to have permission to run a K-9 dog. There also has to be reasonable suspicion.
In that case, a Nebraska police officer pulled over a vehicle after it veered onto the shoulder of the highway. The driver was issued a written warning. This is where the stop should have been completed, but instead, he had a drug sniffing dog circle the vehicle.
In the state of Texas, there is no expectation of privacy and it is an open air sniff.
“We do not prolong the traffic stop after the normal procedure of a traffic stop has taken place,” Officer Brandie Banda with the Wichita Falls Police Department said.
She explained the officer has to have reasonable suspicion to request a K-9 Unit to come out and do an open air sniff. Reasonable suspicion would be if the officer knows that a vehicle coming through town is coming from an area where there are drugs. It could also be if an officer has been setting up surveillance on a known drug house.
“They can run that dog around the outside of the vehicle, and if that dog hits, they have probable cause to go into that vehicle,” she said.
There is no set time on how long the officer can wait for the K-9 Unit to arrive. Officer Banda said they use their units on a daily basis. If they are working then they are using them.
She said, “If they are not on duty, then they are available to be called in to be used.”
The Drug Interdiction Unit with WFPD makes the situation a little different. They patrol the highways looking for any vehicles they believe may be running drugs, either into the city of Wichita Falls, or through Wichita Falls.
“By doing this, they've got the K-9 Unit right there with them,” Officer Banda said, “They don't have to have any reasonable suspicion.”
It works the same if the K-9 Unit executes the traffic stop,or if they get to the scene before the regular traffic stop procedure is done.
There are situations where the K-9 Units will not be used. If officers or sheriffs have probable cause, such as smelling drugs, or seeing drugs in plain sight, there is no need. They can search the vehicle.
The Wichita Falls Police Department has two dogs on the force and the Wichita County Sheriff Office has three. Both agencies said the dogs have been a huge help in getting drugs off the streets of Wichita Falls.