Pubdate: Sun, 09 Jan 2005
Source: Longview News-Journal (TX)
Copyright: 2005sCox Interactive Media
Author: Wes Ferguson


When Tracy Freeman cruises the interstate, which he does almost every
day, he's not looking for the obvious. After all, most drug runners
aren't dumb enough to drive 90 mph on I-20.

Instead, Freeman targets the drivers who go 5 mph over the speed
limit, or who change lanes without signaling first. He checks to see
if people's license plates are lighted, or whether they're wearing

After stopping a car for a minor violation, Freeman, Gregg County's
crime interdiction officer, walks up to the front passenger's window.
He checks insurance and driver's license, studies the car's occupants
to see if they're nervous, and he smells for marijuana. He introduces
himself and asks where they're headed.

If Freeman thinks they're hauling drugs, he'll ask to search the car.
In three years fewer than 10 people have refused. But if they do, or
if he can't find anything and is still suspicious, he brings in Luctor
the drug dog.

He said he never calls in Luctor unless he has a reasonable suspicion
that drugs, weapons or other contraband are in the car and he has
exhausted his other options. Otherwise, he said, it would be
time-consuming and might not hold up when the case is filed.

"If I don't get a conviction in court, I've wasted my time and the
taxpayers' money," he said. "I don't want criminals getting off just
because I took a shortcut."

Though Freeman says he doesn't use Luctor unless he's seen indicators
of illegal activity, some law officers use drug dogs during routine
traffic stops. That practice is before the Supreme Court, and justices
will decide whether people who have given police no reason to suspect
illegal activity have a constitutional protection against dog searches.

Roy Caballes of Las Vegas was wearing a suit and driving a new Mercury
when he was stopped on an Illinois freeway in November 1998. It looked
as if he would get off with a warning until Krott the drug dog showed
up and sniffed out $250,000 worth of marijuana in Caballes' trunk.

Caballes' conviction eventually was overturned on grounds that police
had no reason to search his car. The state of Illinois appealed, and
the Supreme Court heard arguments in November.

Dogs trained to find drugs and bombs are becoming more common in
airports and elsewhere even at the Supreme Court because of terrorism

The Supreme Court has tried in recent years to better define people's
right to be left alone in their homes and vehicles. In this case, it
must clarify earlier opinions that found that the use of drug-sniffing
dogs is not necessarily a search that falls under the Fourth Amendment
ban on unreasonable searches or seizures.

"A sniff is not a search," Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan told
the justices.

Chicago attorney Ralph Meczyk, representing Caballes, countered: "It
is accusatory. It is profoundly embarrassing."

Justice David Souter appeared troubled by the prospect of more use of

"We're opening a large vista for dog intrusion," he said, adding that
he was worried about officers canvassing garages and neighborhoods
with animals. Police "can take a dog to a front door and ring the bell
and see what happens."

That's not something Freeman, and Luctor, will be doing anytime soon.
Narcotics traffickers come in all varieties, Freeman said, and so do
their cars, from rusted jalopies to fancy SUVs.

"I can't tell you what a drug dealer looks like," he said. "It could
be a man in a three-piece suit, or it could be a man in overalls."

Freeman lets most people go with a ticket or a warning without ever
searching their car or deploying the dog, he said.

"I've probably let loads of dope drive off," he said. "We all have in
law enforcement."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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