Reporter: Lynn Bell
MARK COLVIN: Police in Victoria have discovered an unusual problem with their latest batch of sniffer dogs. Some of them are better able to track down a freshly bathed baby than a packet of drugs.
The reason is that their training has taught them how to detect talcum powder instead of cocaine. Routine tests belatedly revealed that a bag of cocaine used to train the sniffer dogs had actually been full of talcum powder. An investigation is now underway.
In Melbourne, Lynn Bell has the story.
LYNN BELL: The seven police sniffer dogs began training in January, to root out drugs across Melbourne. They're trained to sit down next to a person when they pick up the scent of cocaine. The only problem is, none of the dogs can identify the drug.
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner, Paul Evans, admits one of the bags of cocaine used in the training program contained nothing more than talcum powder.
PAUL EVANS: Well, the lighter side is that they're very good at detecting talcum powder at this moment, so if there's any missing kids out there, we'll find them fairly quickly I should think.
(...at least this guy has a sense of humor...)
LYNN BELL: The drugs used for training come from the Australian Federal Police and are taken from packages seized during drug raids.
Assistant Commissioner, Paul Evans, says he doesn't believe there's any whiff of corruption, but admits it is possible. He says drugs are sometimes cut with other substances like talcum powder and the bag could simply have been mislabelled.
PAUL EVANS: We believe that it's an administrative issue, as far as the recording of it so at this stage we don't believe there's anything more sinister to that. Of course it will be fully investigated, but at this stage this is what it appears, simply to be that.
LYNN BELL: The investigation will be overseen by the Director of Police Integrity in Victoria and the State's Police Minister, Tim Holding, says the bungle comes as a shock.
TIM HOLDING: Well I was surprised and I was disappointed.
Obviously, any issues around the handling of drugs that Victoria Police hold for legitimate operational purposes needs to be sensitively handled and in this instance, we just want to be confident that the proper mechanisms and safeguards are put in place, that they are followed and that we learn any lessons that arise from this investigation.
LYNN BELL: Assistant Commissioner Paul Evans says it's possible cocaine has gone undetected while the dogs have been working over the last few months.
PAUL EVANS: It is embarrassing. It's embarrassing to the organisation. It shouldn't happen, it did happen, it certainly tested our audit processes, which have worked in this case.
So I guess out of that some good has come. We have picked it up ourselves fairly quickly and it certainly is embarrassing to the organisation, it shouldn't happen.
LYNN BELL: The sniffer dogs will now be heading back to school, to ensure they can soon start hunting for substances other than baby powder.
MARK COLVIN: Lynn Bell.