The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that police can use drug-sniffing dogs to inspect stopped vehicles, even if the officers have no particular reason to suspect illegal activity. Iowa State Trooper John Hitchcock is a K-9 handler in District Three that includes Council Bluffs. Hitchcock says Iowa uses K-9 officers quite frequently in “criminal interdiction” cases. In most traffic stops they’re not called in, but he says in District 3 traffic stops when there’s reasonable suspicion they are used, with “great succcess.” This past weekend was an example of a case that led to the use of a K-9 officer, and that in turn paid off. A traffic stop resulted in a “reasonable suspicion” of the people in the vehicle, so Hitchcock says they were asked if they’d consent to a search and they did. During the search officers found a large amount of currency, and a drug-sniffing dog “alerted,” indicating the money smelled of illegal drugs. As a result of that, the 120-thousand dollars in cash was seized. The driver and passenger both said they didn’t know anything about the money, and signed disclaimers stating the cash wasn’t theirs and they didn’t know whose it was. Next will be a hearing in which a court will determine if the traffic stop was reasonable and if the state patrol will be allowed to keep the money that was seized . If it’s successfully seized, Hitchcock says a “significant portion” of that money comes back to the state Department of Public Safety, to be used for equipment purchases, under the state’s asset-forfeiture laws. City police in Council Bluffs seized 480-pounds of marijuana in a separate stop. A “reasonable suspicion” may include simple conversation with the people in a vehicle, the trooper explains…because most will agree on where they’re going and where they’ve come from. If their stories don’t match, it’s one of the first — and most common — reasons to decide there’s something suspicious going on, and to bring in a trained drug-sniffing K-9 officer.
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