With a powerful sense of smell, man’s best friend has been assisting police for years. Dogs track down crime scene evidence, human remains, illegal drugs, firearms, explosives, currency, bootleg DVDs, and contraband cellphones in prisons. Although these detection dogs are helpful to authorities, they can cause quite a stir at a self-storage facility.
As an owner or manager, should you allow bomb and narcotics detection dogs to train at your facility?
Industry experts are not in agreement on this question. Many believe that the benefits of allowing police dogs to train at your facility outweigh any potential harm. Proponents believe that by allowing officers to train their drug- or bomb-sniffing dogs at your site, you are not only being a decent citizen, you are also maintaining a good relationship with local law enforcement.
As the law stands right now, as long as you disclose the fact that you allow authorities to train dogs at your facility, you are not invading tenants’ privacy. This disclosure can easily be handled via a sign posted onsite, a notice on your website, and most importantly, a caveat mentioned in the lease agreement.
This caveat can be as simple as a single well-worded clause in the lease agreement, something to the effect of: “Although we allow police to train detection dogs on site, we cannot ensure this service will always be available, and this service does not guarantee safety.” Legal diction aside, if a tenant takes umbrage with drug and bomb training onsite, in all likelihood, you do not want this person as a tenant anyway. After all, the dogs only react to illicit substances and bomb-making materials.
Of course, there are counterarguments. Opponents assert that detection dogs can create angry tenants, liability risks, and public relations issues; to support their claims, they cite dog bites, violations of tenants’ privacy rights, and false positive searches— instances where a detection dog makes a mistake and brings unwarranted attention to a clean storage locker.
When police officers conduct onsite training, they plant drugs in an empty storage locker and then bring detection dogs around the facility. Sometimes the dog will be alerted to a locker besides the one with the planted drugs. It could be argued that police merely use this training exercise an opportunity to randomly catch criminals storing at a facility.
At the state level, courts are not in agreement as to whether “random” finds during onsite training constitute invasions of tenant privacy and violations of the fourth amendment. Of course, if a dog randomly detects an illicit substance in a locker, a police officer still has to get a search warrant from a judge if he wants to open that locker. Most states have ruled that as long as the “search” was truly the result of a random find during onsite training, it’s lawful.
Robert Madsen, a veteran self-storage owner with three facilities in the Vancouver area, has allowed authorities to train drug-sniffing dogs at one of his locations in the past. He said he believes that cooperating with law enforcement is a good idea. “There are certainly positive effects. The perception of security is very important.”
That being said, Madsen protects the privacy rights of his tenants as well. “We’re all for working with law enforcement, but at the same time, we want to make sure the reason [they’re there] is actually training.” After I ask him about the potential downsides of sanctioning dog training, he concedes that “you could lose a tenant who’s recreationally using marijuana.” But for the most part, Madsen believes that allowing law enforcement to train dogs on site is a good idea.
As a facility manager, by allowing police to train canines on site, you can market your facility to law-abiding tenants and gain an invaluable relationship with local authorities.
What do you think about this issue? Leave your two cents in a comment below.
Photo from The Times of Northwest Indiana