Using Police K-9 to smell bedbugs in apartment.
February 3, 2014 11:44 AM   Subscribe

My sister lives in an apartment complex that has routine maintenance checks. She informed me that tomorrow they will be coming through everyones apartments to check filters etc etc. She also told me that they bring a police and their K-9 unit with them to check for bedbugs. I was shocked when she told me this and can't believe that this is even legal to do. How are they able to use the police and their dogs to search for bedbugs? How is this legal?
posted by Sweetmag to Law & Government (34 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
That is weird, as bedbug dogs require actual special bedbug training. (Here is a sort of "simplified to the point where it won't actually work" guide to the process.) I have had a bedbug dog visit my house. He worked with a special handler who carried live bedbugs with him (in a very secure vial!) and there were a whole bunch of procedures involved. It seems unlikely to me that regular police dogs could be maintained in this state of alertness and also function as police dogs.

Could your sister have misunderstood and thought that the exterminator's bedbug dog/dogs are from the police?

If not, this sounds really strange. I would follow up with the apartment management, read my lease and quickly call the city or (for preference) legal aid/tenants' rights. It is difficult not to read this as "cops are being brought in to search illegally for stuff under the guise of bedbug hunting".
posted by Frowner at 11:51 AM on February 3, 2014 [13 favorites]

Bedbug sniffing dogs are a thing, though I don't know that Police dogs would be trained for this.

But why would this be illegal? For the most part, things are legal unless there is a law against them, not the other way around. I don't know that there is no law against this specifically, but what law does your gut think this would be violating?
posted by brainmouse at 11:52 AM on February 3, 2014

I think she must have misunderstood. Maybe they're bringing a bedbug sniffing dog, and someone referred to it as a "K-9," and she assumed that it's a police dog?

If apartment management is proactively sending out a bedbug dog, she should be thrilled. I can't see how they'd be sending a drug dog through the entire complex unless they thought a dealer lived there (in which case they sure as hell wouldn't announce it through the apartment management).
posted by mudpuppie at 11:54 AM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

What kind of apartment complex is this? Is it market rate/nice-and-pleasant or is it partially subsidized or really cheap or does it house people getting some form of state support? If it's a nice one, it seems less likely that there are going to be cops and dodgy things; if it's a cheap one, the landlord could be looking for reasons to evict certain tenants. What does the landlord plan to do if the dogs alert to bedbugs? Some landlords treat; some victim-blame and evict (which doesn't solve the problem).

If the management are good folks, then this is probably great - hooray, bedbug alert before the whole building is infested! - but if the management are dodgy, this sounds dodgy.
posted by Frowner at 11:58 AM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of bedbug-detecting dog businesses out there, and many of them (based on a quick google, anyway) use "K-9" in their name. Is she positive the management company said or means police K-9s?

If it is police, she doesn't have to let them in without a warrant. It may complicate things with her management company, but she's totally within her rights to say "No cops in my apartment" and to ask that a not-police dog company be used instead.
posted by rtha at 12:04 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah it doesn't sound like she's got the facts straight on this one. Bedbug exterminators have their own dogs that are specifically trained to find bedbugs, and the police don't generally give you 24-hr notice for searches for the sort of stuff (drugs, explosives) you need police dogs to find.
posted by griphus at 12:04 PM on February 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

It sounds like she misunderstood what they told her.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:05 PM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

This sounds like one of three things to me:

1) Properly trained dogs sniffing for bedbugs
2) Police dogs sniffing for something that is not bedbugs
3) She's misunderstood

In the case of 1) the landlord is either using terminology loosely, or a company brand name, or the guy doing it used to be in the police OR he wants to put the wind up the tenants.

In the case of 2) it actually is the police coming round, probably to look for drugs. The landlord still wants to put the wind up tenants. If he has said they are looking for bedbugs then perhaps this is the legal figleaf that gains them access. This strikes me as unlikely though.

In the case of either of the first two scenarios it's odd. In the case of the second scenario it is very odd.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:08 PM on February 3, 2014

Response by poster: The apartment complex, I believe, will take subsidized rent, but its mostly for elderly people or people like my sister who have disabilities. She confirmed that last time they were there it was the police in uniform with their dogs and they checked her whole apartment.

Brainmouse- I was wondering if its illegal, because wouldn't that basically be a search without a warrant? And why would they need the police when others have pointed out, that there's companies who have their own trained dogs.

I think my best bet is to present at her apartment tomorrow afternoon when they come through.
posted by Sweetmag at 12:09 PM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

She confirmed that last time they were there it was the police in uniform with their dogs and they checked her whole apartment.

Did bedbugs figure into the situation the last time it happened or did the police say what they were searching for? And was there warning from building management that time as well or was it a surprise?
posted by griphus at 12:11 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why not just have your sister tell them that she is not giving the police permission to enter the apartment?

I think your solution of being there is a good one so you can question the police and see what it is they are actually doing. This is odd. Can you check the local police's website and see if they say anything about their K-9 unit and its capabilities and uses?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:12 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Where is this? That sounds fishy. However, K-9 bedbug dogs are a thing. I could see a police department renting out their services like this to make extra money, especially in a smaller town.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 12:15 PM on February 3, 2014

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

There is no way I would let the police bring dogs into my house to sniff for bedbugs, or anything else, without a warrant. No way no how. Just no.
posted by payoto at 12:27 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd want to see in writing what they are and aren't searching for.

Although, honestly, I'd feel better if my building were being monitored for bedbugs -- if they can catch and eradicate them early, all the better. Could easily be a public health campaign of some sort...
posted by acm at 12:33 PM on February 3, 2014

You could call the police non-emergency line and ask, because if this wasn't actually the police coming but they were representing themselves as police or not making much effort to not represent themselves as police, maybe the real police would also like to come visit at the appointed time.

Will you come back and let us know what happens? I am baffled and interested in what is really going on.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:35 PM on February 3, 2014 [18 favorites]

I was wondering if its illegal, because wouldn't that basically be a search without a warrant?

A search without a warrant is perfectly legal if she lets them in to perform that search. If she says "You're not allowed in without a warrant" and they enter anyway, that's an illegal search.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:42 PM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Lots of publicly subsidized apartments have draconian rules and regulations as well as relationships with law enforcement in which the tenants are treated as just barely better than inmates in a prison. Furthermore, even if the residents are by and large decent people, these draconian managers are also concerned about low-life family members (gang members, drug dealers, various ne'er-do-wells) who may be crashing with grandma or auntie.

SO ... This does not surprise me in the slightest, and I wouldn't believe for a second that this is just an innocent attempt to sniff for bed bugs. This seems like obvious police state tactics intended to intimidate the residents and conduct a drug search that would never otherwise be allowed without a warrant.
posted by jayder at 12:48 PM on February 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

Was it the city police or housing authority police?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:08 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

A search without a warrant is perfectly legal if she lets them in to perform that search. If she says "You're not allowed in without a warrant" and they enter anyway, that's an illegal search.

If you're going to take this approach, please consult a lawyer in your jurisdiction first. Assuming your apartment is a rental, the landlord will have given you ample warning that they are going to enter your unit, and informed you that police will be present, which could complicate things.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:19 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would call the local police department as Lyn Never suggests. In general, police departments are underfunded. Training a police K-9 is an expensive process. I can't think of any reason they would spend their any of their K-9 budget on training their dogs to sniff out bedbugs.

And I would also ask for clarification re NotMyselfRightNow's comment. Ask if the landlord can grant permission for the police to enter and search or if it must be the tenant. The landlord generally has the right to enter with notice but I'm not sure the landlord can give permission to the police.

I would start with independent verification from the police department.
posted by Beti at 1:25 PM on February 3, 2014

I also consulted with my retired LEO husband who said if the tenant refused to grant the landlord entry after proper notice, the most the police might do is a "civil standby" to allow the landlord to do his/her job and ensure the safety of the landlord.

He also confirmed that police departments aren't usually going to have the time or inclination or resources to devote to this and agreed with many people's suspicions that this isn't quite the reality of the situation.
posted by Beti at 1:40 PM on February 3, 2014

This would creep me out completely, the idea that someone from a police force had been deployed for 'bedbugs'. I would assume that they are drug sniffing dogs. If your sister is vulnerable and may have difficulty finding another place to live, and doesn't have means to fight this sort of thing, and furthermore doesn't have drugs in her apartment, the thing to do might be to let it go.

If she can fight it, or wants to, local legal aid might be the place to go, as well as Googling the hell out of state laws regarding police access.

They are *police*. I might rather have bedbugs visit my house. At least I would know the game they were playing. This sounds like subterfuge.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:18 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think my best bet is to present at her apartment tomorrow afternoon when they come through.

Yes on this. That is a good idea.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:21 PM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's hard to imagine these are actually police in the real sense of the word. I don't know of any city where the police have so little to do that they have time to go on bed bug searches. PLus it would probably be illegal. There must be a misunderstanding.
posted by Dansaman at 4:21 PM on February 3, 2014

If they were really police, it occurs to me that the police might really have been called in by the landlords to do drug-sniffing, and that the landlord (or apt manager?) could be lying to the tenants about the purpose.

That said, it *is* common and normal for subsidized housing and apartments to have yearly inspections. In our area, just the inspector and the tenant (or whoever the tenant has let the inspector in) is present for individual housing, but for apartments, it typically includes the manager, too.

This just screams that something is off, but I've got no solid base for guesses as to which manner - all the hinky options listed above sound pretty equally viable to me.
posted by stormyteal at 4:31 PM on February 3, 2014

I would be there just to see what is actually going on - I too am baffled that a municipal police force would have the excess resources to devote to bed-bug searches involving armed police officers and highly trained dogs.
posted by modernnomad at 10:15 PM on February 3, 2014

It seems possible to me that what is happening is that there's a fairly normal, if invasive, inspection, potentially complete with bedbug hunting dogs etc., but that for whatever reason these inspections in the past have been problematic (tenants refusing the inspection, threatening inspectors with violence or even attacking them) and that this experience has lead to the management arranging to have a police officer present as well.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:52 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Set up a camera and record the whole thing.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:53 AM on February 4, 2014

So what was the actual story, Sweetmag?
posted by DarlingBri at 1:47 PM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

If the police department in your area is doing a bedbug check for a local landlord, then the police department is misappropriating public funds. If they even own a bedbug sniffing dog, that would be a misappropriation of public funds. There is no valid law enforcement reason to purchase the very expensive training required to train a dog to sniff bedbugs.

Either they are not police, or the police are not looking for bedbugs. Or, the police are illegally using public funds to help this landlord.
posted by Flood at 4:29 PM on February 4, 2014

Response by poster: I wasn't able to be at my sister's apartment today, since we received about 10 inches of snow. She called me this afternoon and said that the manager announced that due to weather, maintenance and "bedbug" dogs would not be coming till next week. So as of right now, I'm not able to confirm whether it is actual police or exterminators. She knows that I need to be present when they do come and she's going to let me know when the next check will be.

I will update this thread as soon as I can! It worries me, because my sister has severe disabilities and would most likely just let them in if asked. She has the mental capacity of a 10 year old and is extremely eager to please. She has nothing to hide, but its the principal behind it. Sorry I can't give more info, but I will as soon as the weather clears and the check happens. Thank you all for answering my question :)
posted by Sweetmag at 5:10 PM on February 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think what I'm about to say here is profoundly unfair, and I think this is pretty much the opposite of how the world should work and the opposite of what I would want to do, but standing on principles is a luxury not everyone can afford.

I think no matter what you should be there, but as far as refusing them entry, I'd be careful about that and about knowing her legal rights. It sounds like she's terribly vulnerable and in a relatively safe place, and if they retaliated against her the principle of the thing wouldn't be much comfort, if they dragged their feet every time she needed a repair or whatever to make their feelings known. If these are indeed people who lie to tenants to gain police access, they are terrible rats and it should be expected that they will continue to be terrible rats for the foreseeable future.

If it is possible to somehow abstract this away from her (for instance, by finding out the truth of what's going on and asking an advocacy group to intervene on behalf of all residents) that might be better.

It's great you're going to be there. It's important that they know she is someone with family who is prepared to stand behind her and look out for her, not a vulnerable person who has to stand alone.

Hope this works out for her.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:08 AM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, I think A Terrible Llama's point is quite valid, if they are rats they will continue to be rats. That said, I think your presence is definitely a good reminder that she is not alone in this and that there are other interested parties that are not quite as easy to exploit. Just being there and asking questions in a non-confrontational way will go a long way to help her out.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:38 PM on February 5, 2014

Have you considered calling the local precinct to ask about this check? They may be able to give you some insight. To me, and I may not be typical of the residents at the building, if I were given a few days, a week, or even an hours notice of a police bedbug inspection, you can be damn sure that the only thing they would find in my apartment was a bedbug. I would remove anything illegal or inappropriate. While I would want to be there, and would hesitate to give a blanket entry ("You may come in officer to check for bedbugs only), I highly doubt the police expect to find anything but a bedbug and that that is the real primary reason for them coming. Training the dogs in stressful situations.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:08 PM on February 5, 2014

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