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Tag: police dogs

What do marijuana-sniffing dogs and newspaper reporters have in common?

phelan

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.

K-9 partner among those paying last respects to slain Kentucky police officer

figo

Figo wasn’t with his partner when the 33-year-old police officer was shot and killed alongside the road, but the German shepherd attended the funeral and paid his respects.

Jason Ellis, a K-9 officer with the Bardstown Police Department in Kentucky, was shot and killed last Saturday when he stopped to remove some debris from the road, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Police said he was shot multiple times with a shotgun by an unknown assailant.

Ellis was buried Thursday after a funeral service held on the seventh anniversary of his taking the oath as a police officer in Bardstown, a town of about 12,000 people, located 40 miles southeast of Louisville.

The funeral at Parkway Baptist Church, just off Blue Grass Parkway in Bardstown, drew law enforcement officers from Chicago, Pennsylvania, Ohio and across Kentucky, many of them K-9 officers who brought their dogs.

Attendees filled the sanctuary’s 1,000 seats, 500 more seats in a fellowship hall, and were lined up along the walls. After service in the church, there was a 20-mile procession to the rural cemetery in Chaplin where Ellis was buried.

At the funeral, Ellis was remembered as a family man, friend and a hero. Bardstown Police Chief Rick McCubbin said Ellis “paid the ultimate sacrifice doing what he loved: being a police officer.”

(Photo by Jonathan Palmer / Lexington Herald-Leader)

Famed NYPD bloodhound dies in his sleep

A bloodhound from North Carolina who went on to find fame in the New York City Police Department died this weekend at age 10.

Scooby, whose all-knowing nose played a key role in tracking down a cop killer during an interstate manhunt, passed away in his sleep about 9 a.m. Saturday, police said. He’d been suffering from an undisclosed illness, according to the New York Daily News.

The bloodhound was most noted for assisting in the 2007 apprehension of two suspects who had fled the city after gunning down two officers who had pulled them over in Brooklyn for driving a stolen BMW.

Officer Russel Timoshenko, 23, was shot in the face and died a few days later. Officer Herman Yan, his partner and now a detective, was wounded but survived.

The two suspects, Dexter Bostic and Robert Ellis, managed to escape the city and make it as far as the Poconos in eastern Pennsylvania, where they hid out in the woods.

Scooby, joined by six other police dogs and about 300 police officers from several states, launched a manhunt in the woods, based on reports of the two suspects having been seen in a nearby rest area.

Scooby took part in the search that night, and is credited with — when the search resumed the next morning — tracking down Ellis, who was found resting against a tree. Bostic was later apprehended as well.

Bostic was convicted in December 2008 of murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Ellis was convicted only of weapons possession, according to the New York Post, and was sentenced to 15 years.

Could cadaver dogs be replaced by vultures?

Skilled as dogs are at finding dead bodies, police in Germany think they’ve found an animal even more adept at the task.

Police in Walsrode, Germany, say they have trained a vulture named Sherlock to lead them to cadavers.

By placing a GPS device on his leg, they can track him and respond — I’d hope before he’s eaten too much of the evidence.

“If it works, it could save time because the birds can cover much more area than sniffer dogs or humans,” officer Rainer Herrmann told the Daily Mail.

The turkey vulture, a natural scavenger, feeds almost exclusively on carrion, finding its meals through keen vision and a sense of smell that allows it to detect the gasses produced during the decay of dead animals from as high as 3,000 feet in the air.

“‘It was a colleague of mine who got the idea from watching a nature programme,”  Herrmann said. ”

Sherlock can even find remains in woodland or in thick undergrowth. Unlike sniffer dogs, who need regular breaks, Sherlock doesn’t seem to get tired and can cover a far larger area.

Sherlock is being trained at Walsrode, the largest bird park in the world with 650 different species.

Trainers hope to assemble a squadron of crimefighting vultures, but — given that the vultures aren’t native to the area, would have to be raised from chicks to be tame, and require lots of training — it will be a while before they are called to duty.

New Orleans officers charged in K-9 deaths

neworleansTwo New Orleans police officers have been charged in connection with the deaths of two police dogs in unrelated incidents.

Jason Lewis, 33, is accused of leaving Primo, a Belgian Malinois, unattended in a police department SUV, leading to the dog’s heat related death.

The case was heavily publicized last summer when the Metropolitan Crime Commission released photographs, including the one above, which shows what Primo did to the vehicle before dying from apparent heat stroke. Lewis was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals.

Sgt. Randy Lewis, a former supervisor in the New Orleans Police Department’s K-9 unit, meanwhile, was charged with malfeasance in office, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports.

Randy Lewis, 45, was handling another K-9, Phantom, who last May fell down an open elevator shaft at the abandoned Charity Hospital building in downtown New Orleans — while Lewis was moonlighting.  Lewis claimed he was on duty and involved in a training exercise, according to a spokesman for the Orleans Parish district attorney’s office. Actually he was being paid to work on a private security detail.

Neither officer has worked with dogs since the deaths.

Attorneys for the officers said the charges are unfair and they will fight them in court.

“Both of these cases are significant above and beyond the fact that, tragically, an animal lost its life,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, which last summer asked the district attorney’s office to look at the cases. “I think that these cases, both of them, indicate and speak to the police department’s inability to adequately police itself.”

According to an LSU necropsy report, Primo, 6 years old, likely died from shock due to heat stroke. He was taken to a veterinary office with a body temperature of 109.8 degrees.

The other dog, Phantom, died after falling from the 17th floor into an empty elevator shaft at around 9:30 at night on May 21, 2009. According to a report obtained by the Crime Commission, the dog’s body was removed by officers the next morning.

More police departments microchipping K-9s

Hoping to avoid a repeat of what happened with a Minnesota police dog named Felony, more police departments in the area are microchipping members of their K-9 units.

Midwest Animal Rescue Services (MARS) placed microchips in all 15 of the St. Paul police department’s dogs Tuesday, and microchipped nine dogs for the Minnesota State Patrol.

“We have departments from all over the state, western Wisconsin, even one from South Dakota has called us to get this done,” Dave Fleischhaker of MARS told TV station KARE in Minneapolis-St. Paul. “And yes, we will chip everyone who gives us a call.”

The rescue organization extended the microchipping offer to every police department in Minnesota after hearing about the plight of Felony, a black lab that worked as a drug sniffing dog for the Howard Lake Police Department.

Felony escaped his kennel and was eventually captured by the local dog catcher. He wasn’t microchipped and after he failed a behavioral examination he was euthanized by the local animal shelter.

Yesterday’s microchipping is being paid for by Midwest Animal Rescue Services, which is raising the money through contributions.

Burglary suspect strangled dog, deputies say

Suspects in a Houston-area home burglary have confessed to choking to death a police dog who was pursuing them, FOX 26 in Houston reported.

Harris County deputies sent K-9 teams into a wooded area Tuesday night in  search of two of the three suspects, but one of the dogs — a five year old German shepherd mix named Bleck — never came back and was later found dead.

One of the suspects who was found in the woods confessed to fatally choking the dog, Fox26 reported. A third supect was found in a car trying to escape from authorities.

Members of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office say a necropsy will be performed on the dog.