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Using a dog to seek drugs in a public place is not permitted

Oulu police reprimanded for drug searches in Rotuaari pedestrianised street

The Oulu police have been rebuked by Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja for having used a dog to sniff out drugs in a public place and searched the persons that the dog "marked".

In the view of the Deputy-Ombudsman, searches of this kind are, on the basis of the regulations in force, questionable from the perspective of fundamental rights. If the police wish to carry out checks of this kind, they must have clear support in legislation.

- "This action is a personal search in the meaning of the Coercive Measures Act, something to which the police do not have a right founded in an Act unless there is a suspicion of a crime," he explains.  
 
The Parliamentary Ombudsman received several complaints about the matter. It was reported in them that when a dog sensed the smell of a narcotic substance, the person was stopped and searched for drugs.

Power must be enshrined in an Act

The Customs, the Border Guard and prisons may use a sniffer dog to check for drugs without a crime being suspected. However, these procedures and other special situations are separately provided for in an Act. 

The power to use technical or other means of surveillance that enable the police to detect crimes must be enshrined in an Act, the Deputy-Ombudsman points out.

In his view, monitoring that is done with the aid of a dog can be equated to surveillance of a technical character. If it is done without any other ground to suspect a crime, it becomes an intervention in privacy and presupposes regulation on the level of an Act.

A dog's very sensitive sense of smell means that it can make also so-called false positive observations. It can, for example, mark a person who has been on premises where drugs have been used or a person to whose clothing the smell has been transferred from the seat of a bus.

The police stated in the report that they gave to the Ombudsman that a suspicion of a crime is always based on an overall assessment, which is influenced by, in addition to the dog?s observations, such matters as the person?s behaviour.

However, the Deputy-Ombudsman took the view that people can react to a dog and an inspection situation in various ways, whereby conclusions arrived at on the basis of behaviour should be viewed with reservation.

In the same decision Deputy-Ombudsman Pajuoja criticised the Oulu police for selectiveness that had happened in registering notifications of crimes.

The National Police Board was asked to report, by the end of June 2014, on the measures that had been taken in the case.