What’s a working dog to do? You learn your trade, hone your skills, toil away, only to find out that the world around you has evolved to a point where those skills are no longer much appreciated.
It’s why you can’t find a blacksmith too easily nowadays. It’s what happened to the elevator operator, the milkman, and, at least from my biased and disgruntled point of view, the newspaper reporter.
Such too was the case with Phelan, a marijuana-detecting Labrador retriever in the employ of the police department in Lakewood, Colorado.
With the passage by Colorado voters of Initiative 502 — legalizing the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana — the skill Phelan was best known for is no longer much in demand there.
In fact, his biggest asset has become a liability, the News Tribune reports.
Phelan was handed his pink slip this week and sold to the state Department of Corrections, where, in his new job, his inability to distinguish between marijuana and other drugs won’t be a problem — all drugs being illegal behind bars.
The same story is playing out in Washington state, where voters also legalized marijuana use, and where police departments are figuring out whether to cease training new dogs in marijuana detection, put their existing dogs through ”pot desensitization” training or just retire them and send them out to pasture, according to the Associated Press.
Take it from me, pasture sucks. Dogs and people, I think, prefer having a mission.
But Phelan’s mission, at least in the two states where moderate amounts of marijuana are now permitted, no longer much needs to be accomplished. Worse yet, alerting to small amounts of marijuana could mess up prosecutions in cases involving other, still illegal, drugs.
Say Phelan alerted to drugs in the trunk of a car. Phelan’s inability to distinguish between heroin and marijuana — or at least specify to his handler to which he is alerting — means any subsequent search by officers could have been based on Phelan detecting an entirely legal drug, in an entirely legal amount.
That means the “probable cause” the search was based on might not have really existed, and that means any evidence of illegal drugs subsequently found in the search would likely be tossed out.
Thus Phelan, unless he were to be retrained to drop marijuana-detecting from his repertoire — not easily accomplished — has ended up going from cutting edge law enforcement tool to an old school has been.
Drug detecting dogs — traditionally trained to alert to the smell of marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and cocaine – can’t specify what they’re smelling, much less the quantity it might be in.
In Washington, the new law decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of the drug for individuals over 21, and barred the growth and distribution of marijuana outside the state-approved system.
Dog trainer Fred Helfers, of the Pacific Northwest Detection Dog Association, said abandoning pot training is a “knee-jerk” reaction: “What about trafficking? What about people who have more than an ounce?” Still, he’s helping departments who want to put their dogs through ”extinction training” to change what substances dogs alert to. That takes about 30 days, followed by a prolonged period of reinforcement.
The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission removed detecting marijuana from its canine team certification standards this year, and no longer requires dogs be trained to detect it, but some others say, given large amounts of pot are still illegal, it can still be a useful skill for a dog to have.
In Pierce County, prosecutor Mark Lindquist believes new dogs are the answer — dogs trained in sniffing out the other drugs, but not marijuana. He’s not convinced dogs can be re-trained. “We’ll need new dogs to alert on substances that are illegal,” he told the Associated Press.
Other police departments, like Tacoma’s, aren’t making any changes.
“The dog doesn’t make the arrest, the officer does,” said spokesperson Loretta Cool. “A canine alert is just one piece of evidence an officer considers when determining whether a crime has been committed.”
Phelan was one of two drug-sniffing dogs on the police force in Lakewood, Colorado. He’ll be replaced by Kira, a Belgian Malinois who was trained not to alert when she smells marijuana. Duke, a Labrador retriever mix with the old-school training, will remain on the force for now.
Phelan, though, will be moving on, and I sympathize with the crime-fighting Lab.
His new gig in the slammer is clearly a step down the career ladder — not unlike going from being a newspaper reporter detecting corruption and injustice to an unpaid blogger who mostly (but not entirely) regurgitates material already written.
And, for Phelan, there’s the added insult of being sold for the lowly sum of one dollar.
Surely — old school as his talents may be – he was worth more than that.
Posted by jwoestendiek June 12th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alert, cocaine, colorado, court, criminal justice, detect, detection, dog, dogs, drug-sniffing, drugs, heroin, job, K-9, k9, lakewood, law, law enforcement, marijuana, marijuana laws, mission, newspapers, police, police dogs, problems, prosecutors, purpose, reporters, searches, skills, sniffing, tacoma, useless, washington, working dogs
Anyone who follows dog news knows that (A) police departments are turning to dogs more than ever to help fight crime; and that (B) local police officers are shooting dogs more than ever; and that (C) those two trends don’t seem to add up.
You’d think that, as police departments become more dog savvy, reports of officers shooting dogs they feel threatened by would be declining.
Instead, nearly weekly, there’s news of another family pet being gunned down — often pit bulls, sometimes breeds not known for provoking fear, like retrievers.
It’s Arvada. All Arvada police officers are getting dog behavior training, ABC 7 in Denver reports — and they don’t have to go far to get it, considering the experts are often right in the same building.
Officers in the department’s K-9 unit are working with those who patrol the streets in an attempt to give them a better understanding of dog behavior.
“We can be a good resource for them and offer a different perspective,” said Jennie Whittle.
By working with and learning from the department’s K-9s and handlers, the program hopes to better equip officers on the street to deal with dogs, so that fear isn’t the first, and the dominant, reaction.
Often, all a dog that might appear aggressive needs is some time and space.
“Fido just came out here and he isn’t necessarily trying to attack me and if I just give that dog some space then we don’t have any further issue with that dog,” Ron Avila explained.
“Even our patrol officers are, I don’t want to say scared, but intimated at times when we go around our own canine police dogs,” said Arvada police officer Jason Ammons.
Ammons was on bike patrol when a pit bull ran after him and attempted to bite his leg. He used his Taser on the dog instead of his gun, which Arvada officers are being taught is the preferred option.
In light of recent shootings of dogs by officers in other towns, state Sen. David Balmer plans to introduce a bill that would make dog training mandatory for all police officers.
Posted by jwoestendiek March 26th, 2013 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: adams county, animals, arvada, behavior, canine, colorado, commerce city, david balmer, dog, dogs, K-9, k9, law, law enforcement, legislation, officer, patrol, pets, police, prevention, program, senator, shooting, shootings, training
The canine nose got a vote of confidence Tuesday from the U.S. Supreme Court.
The unanimous decision stemmed from a case in Florida in which defense attorneys questioned a drug-sniffing dog’s credentials and reliability, and whether his alert was just cause to search a truck police had stopped.
The court ruled that, in the case of trained and certified dogs, it is — or as Justice Elena Kagan put it: “The sniff is up to snuff.”
Kagan said a dog’s “satisfactory performance” in a certification or training program provided sufficient reason for an officer to trust its alert, even though errors “may abound” when dogs get put to the test in the field.
The justices said that training records had established the reliability of Aldo, a German shepherd, in sniffing out contraband, and that Florida’s Supreme Court erred in suppressing evidence he found in Clayton Harris’ pickup truck — namely, methamphetamine ingredients.
The ruling, Reuters reports, gives law enforcement greater authority to use dogs to uncover illegal drugs.
“The question – similar to every inquiry into probable cause – is whether all the facts surrounding a dog’s alert, viewed through the lens of common sense, would make a reasonably prudent person think that a search would reveal contraband or evidence of a crime,” Kagan wrote for the court. “A sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test.”
The Harris case is one of two the court is considering about the validity of evidence obtained by drug-sniffing dogs. The second — which the high court has heard, but not decided — involves a police dog named Franky, who alerted while standing on a home’s doorstep, prompting a search that led to the discovery of marijuana growing inside.
In the case decided Tuesday, defense lawyers for Harris challenged the search by Aldo, a police dog in Liberty County, Florida. The officer handling Aldo — because Harris appeared nervous and declined to approve a search of his vehicle — allowed the dog a “free air sniff.”
Based in part on Aldo’s reaction, a full search was conducted.
Harris’ lawyers challenged the search, questioning Aldo’s certification and whether he was reliable in sniffing out drugs.
Florida’s Supreme Court concluded that the state had not sufficiently established how well-trained Aldo was, and it ruled the evidence of the methamphetamine ingredients should not have been admitted.
Kagan wrote that the officer reasonably believed there was contraband inside the truck based on Aldo’s training, and that defense attorneys failed to show that Aldo was unreliable.
Posted by jwoestendiek February 20th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aldo, animals, certification, detecting, dogs, drug, florida, harris, ingredients, justice elena kagan, K-9, k9, law enforcement, liberty county, methamphetamine, nose, pets, police, reliability, ruling, scent, search, sniffing, supreme court, training, vehicle
A moonlighting New Orleans cop who brought his police K-9 to a private security job broke no law, his lawyer argued Friday– and commited no malfeasance any more serious than failing to shine his shoes.
The dog, named Phantom, fell down an elevator shaft and to his death while he and Sgt. Randy Lewis were working a private security detail at a closed hospital building.
Lewis was not charged with animal cruelty, but with malfeasance.
Judge Ben Willard, after hearing closing arguments in the case Friday, delayed any verdict for another week. Lewis faces five years in prison and a $5,000 fine if found guilty, Nola.com reported
Lewis, a former supervisor in the department’s K-9 unit, took Phantom to the shuttered Charity Hospital in May 2009, where he had been hired to clear vagrants from the property. The dog fell from the 17th floor through a partially open elevator door.
Lewis took Phantom to the job without police department approval, and had signed forms saying no police equipment or animals would be used in the private job.
The dog’s body was not found until the next day, when the private company that hired him had the elevator drained. Lewis then had the dog cremated, before a necropsy could be performed.
Lewis, in his initial reports about the incident, said he was training the dog, and didn’t mention he was getting paid privately for his services.
His attorney, Eric Hessler, argued that Lewis had been working a private job and training his police dog at the same time.
Hessler likened the court proceedings to an officer being prosecuted for failing to shine his shoes.
Posted by jwoestendiek February 5th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, cop, death, died, dogs, elevator, fell, job, k9, law enforcement, malfeasance, moonlighting, new orleans, pets, phantom, police, private, randy lewis, security, shaft, trial
Ivan, a 3-year-old Belgian malinois, was shot and killed two weeks ago while trying to protect officers from an armed carjacking suspect.
The dog park at Purple Heart Park on East Rita Road, which officially opened over the summer, is where Ivan would go with his handler to unwind after his shift.
“(He) would allow him to run the energy off for the night before taking him home,” TPOA secretary, Officer Paul Sheldon, told the Arizona Daily Star.
Sheldon, at the request of Ivan’s handler, Officer Chris Fenoglio, is spearheading an effort to have the park named after Ivan. Last week, he took petitions to the park, seeking signatures in support of the idea.
The petition will be presented to Tucson’s Parks and Recreation department for approval at its next board meeting, after which it would head to the city council for a vote.
Sheldon said he hopes the approval process can be completed by February.
Ivan was shot on Dec. 13 by a carjacking suspect who pulled out a gun when officers encountered him. Released by Fenoglio the dog ran to the suspect and managed to bite his left arm before he was shot.
Sheldon said Fenoglio has received dozens of letters of support from the community.
If the dog park is named after the hero police dog, it won’t be the first time.
In 2006, a Tucson Police Department dog named Miko died after jumping off an overpass in pursuit of a carjacking suspect.
The dog park at Reid Park was named in his honor — Miko’s Corner Playground.
(Photo of Ivan courtesy of Tucson Police Department)
Posted by jwoestendiek December 31st, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, arizona, belgian malinois, bit, carjacking, department, dog park, dogs, honor, ivan, K-9, k9, killed, line of duty, memorial, miko, name, parks, petition, pets, police, police dogs, purple heart park, shot, suspect, tucson
Rex, 12, whose nickname was “Fluffy,” was was laid to rest at the East-West Police K-9 training grounds and cemetery in Sauget.
“He was a phenomenal dog. Amazing. He saved my life at least two times,” said Rex’s hander, patrolman Keith Lewis.
Lewis, shedding tears, spoke at the service, according to the Belleville News-Democrat.
He recalled how Rex once took down a suspect attacking him with knives, and how, on another occasion, the dog found a man hiding in a pile of leaves with a rifle and night-vision goggles.
Rex served the department from 2001 to 2009, fighting crime and also winning numerous awards in Police Canine Association trials.
Rex retired in 2009 and stayed with Lewis and his family.
Rex had been suffering from herniated disks as well as a degenerative neurological disorder. He was put to sleep early Monday morning.
His final resting place in Sauget is with other police dogs, not far from the center where police K-9s are trained.
(Photo: St. Clair County Sheriffs deputy Calvin Savage salutes Rex during the funeral; by Steve Nagy / Belleville News-Democrat)
But they didn’t fool Mitzy.
The sniffer dog, one of many working for the British Border Force, located the three stowaways inside the truck at the Dunkirk port in northern France, BBC reported.
The coffins were aboard a Bulgarian-registered vehicle and were bound for a funeral home in west London.
The stowaways were handed over to French border police.
Posted by jwoestendiek November 1st, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, British Border Force, coffins, dog, dogs, europe, illegal, immigrants, k9, Mitzy, pets, smuggling, sniffer, sniffing, truck, uk
Kos, rescued from an RSPCA shelter 18 months ago, is trained to detect drugs, currency and firearms.
On his first day on the job, with the Avon and Somerset Police, Kos found a lump of heroin in a car.
The 2-1/2-half-year-old dog was being cared for at the RSPCA’s West Hatch Animal Rescue Centre near Taunton before he was taken on by police, according to SWNS.com
“What is nice for ourselves and the RSPCA is Staffordshire Terriers get such a bad name but this dog is so lovely with people and other dogs,” said his handler, Lee Webb, with whom Kos lives. “There are other dogs out there that have potential we could use and it is a shame that people do not give them a chance sometimes.”
Webb says Kos seems as pleased with the arrangement as police are: “Kos was very excitable on his first day on the job – he absolutely loves it.”
Posted by jwoestendiek October 23rd, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, avon, breeds, britain, currency, department, dog, dogs, drugs, firearms, heroin, K-9, k9, kos, law enforcement, pets, pit bulls, police, rescue, rspca, shelter, somerset, staffordshire, staffordshire bull terrier, stereotypes, stigma, terrier, trained, uk
As the only certified officer in the New Mexico town, it appears, on paper anyway, that Nikka’s in charge.
Police Chief Ernest “Chris” Armijo stepped down Wednesday after news stories reported that he wasn’t allowed to carry a gun because of his criminal background.
Vaughn’s only other human officer isn’t certified as a result of pleading guilty to charges of assault and battery last year, according to the Associated Press.
Non-certified officers aren’t allowed to make arrests or carry firearms.
That leaves law enforcement in the small eastern New Mexico town up to Nikka, a drug-sniffing dog who apparently lives with the former chief.
State officials said Chief Armijo couldn’t carry a gun because he owes tens of thousands of dollars in child support payments in Texas. He also faces felony charges after being accused of selling a town-owned rifle and keeping the cash.
Town attorney Dave Romero says Armijo is trying to clear up the latest case and hasn’t ruled out returning to the position.
Romero said not having an officer qualified to carry a gun didn’t put the small town at risk, and added that town officials are looking at hiring another officer. He said it’s unclear whether the town will keep the police dog, which had been in Armijo’s care.
Letting Nikka serve as chief — though we think it’s a good idea — apparently hasn’t been discussed.
Guadalupe County Sheriff Michael Lucero said his department has helped patrol Vaughn, a town of about 450 people located 104 miles east of Albuquerque. But he said that has put a strain on his short-staffed department.
When approached by an Associated Press reporter, Armijo said he had no comment, and he declined to allow Nikka to be photographed.
Posted by jwoestendiek September 27th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, certified, chief, child support, department, dog, dogs, drug, drug-sniffing, Ernest Armijo, firearms, K-9, k9, law enforcement, new mexico, nikka, officers, one, pets, police, police dog, remaining, resignation, sniffing, vaughn, weapons
A police dog named Serge died of “heat exhaustion” last week after an alarm system failed to alert his handler that the air conditioner had malfunctioned in the car he’d been left in, police in Camden, N.J., said Monday.
“Most of the electrics went out. And the air conditioner, instead of cooling the vehicle, was pulling all the heat from the engine. [The dog] probably went in like 10 minutes,” said Joe Rodriguez, supervising trainer at the Atlantic County K-9 Academy in Egg Harbor Township, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Apparently, both the air conditioner and heat alarm failed, Rodriguez said. Rodriguez who trained the German shepherd and his handler, said the alarm is designed to set off a siren and roll down the vehicle’s windows when the temperature inside rises too high.
The dog was found dead in the vehicle, parked outside police headquarters in downtown Camden. The temperature that day, Thursday, reached a high of 92 degrees.
“We still have much more investigating to do before we determine causes and issue conclusions,” Police Chief Scott Thomson said.
The death of police dogs from heat exhaustion — often while they are waiting in cars — has been an all-too frequent occurence across the country this summer.
“It has been a problem with some law enforcement due to malfunctioning equipment, some of it due to human error,” said Russell Hess, national director of the U.S. Police Canine Association. “We usually hear about it every summer.”
Rodriguez, who trains K-9 officers from all over New Jersey, said he recommends that handlers check their dogs every 20 minutes — even when their vehicles are equipped with heat alarms.
“They’re like anything else. They can be hit or miss,” he said. “You get a false sense of security.”
Serge, not quite two-years-old, joined the Camden police force in January.
“He had already captured a bank robbery suspect and had assisted in several other apprehensions as well,” said Chief Thomson.
Posted by jwoestendiek August 15th, 2012 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: air conditioning, animals, camden, car, dead, death, dies, dog, dogs, german shepherd, heat, heat alarm, K-9, k9, malfunction, parked, pets, police, police dog, serge