Pubdate: Mon, 26 Dec 2005
Source: Yakima Herald-Republic (WA)
Copyright: 2005 Yakima Herald-Republic
Author: Mark Morey, and Sara Gettys
Bookmark: (Drug Dogs)


The Yakima Police Department has added a new nose to  its

Don't expect Officer Flash to be writing any tickets,  but she and her
partner will be sniffing out crime  nonetheless.

Flash, a former pound puppy, and Officer Jason Johnson  completed more
than 200 hours of training at the  Washington State Patrol academy to
be certified as the  department's first drug-detecting duo in at least
a  decade.

Capt. Greg Copeland, commander of the patrol division,  said the idea
to restart the program originated from  the officers.

Because the State Patrol's academy was coming up,  department leaders
decided to proceed.

"We have enough drug activity here in the city that we  felt the drug
dog was warranted," Copeland said.

Instead of being assigned to the Upper Valley's joint  drug task
force, as the last dog team was, Johnson  works with Flash as part of
the patrol division.

Johnson takes regular calls during his shift, but is  available if
officers need a drug search conducted.

Local departments will also be able to request  assistance. Other
agencies with drug dogs include  Selah, Kittitas County and the State
Patrol detachments  in Ellensburg and Yakima.

Johnson said the dog makes it easier to find drugs that  might be
missed in a standard hand search of a vehicle,  especially if drugs
are concealed in a hidden  compartment.

The presence of a drug dog on the road doesn't seem to  deter anybody
from carrying around dope, said Sgt. Ed  McAvoy of the Washington
State Patrol.

After a training session in which she located packages  of drugs in
vehicles, Yakima Police Department's  narcotic's dog, Flash, gets a
pat from her trainer and  handler, Officer Jason Johnson.

The State Patrol normally has two drug dogs in service,  but one has
been temporarily reassigned, McAvoy said.  The remaining dog has
conducted more than 60 searches  so far this year.

Statistics on the amount of drugs located weren't 

With just more than a month of riding in the back seat,  Flash has
already found small quantities of drugs  several times. Johnson
expects the dog's work to pick  up when vehicle traffic increases
during the summer.

Flash, a shepherd mix, is trained to detect cocaine,  heroin,
marijuana and methamphetamines.

During training, the dog repeatedly sniffed for the  target drugs,
learning to associate that smell with  being rewarded. In dogspeak,
that means getting to play  with a special ball toy.

Patrol dogs -- those taught to seek and detain suspects  -- are
typically selected by breed.

But drug dogs are chosen more for their energy and  desire to hunt,
among other points.

State troopers sometimes stop by animal shelters to  toss a ball
around with the dogs to determine whether  they have the right drive
for drug work.

The academy tries to have 1.5 dogs on hand for every  officer in order
to make sure that enough teams will  pass the class. Under state law,
each dog and handler  must be certified together.

The dog and training did not cost the department  anything. The only
costs were small and involved  modifying the patrol car to transport
the dog, Copeland  said.

Johnson acknowledged that working with the drug dog  might lack the
adrenaline rush associated with the  department's two patrol dogs.

But he said he enjoys the partnership that he shares  with

Johnson also owns a pet dog, but Flash lives in a  separate

"When she comes out, she knows it's to work," Johnson,  adding that
keeps her more focused on the task at hand.

The pair trains together about 16 hours a month,  besides taking calls
on the job.

Johnson has to learn to read the dog's actions while  also making sure
that her nose is pointed in the right  direction.

If Flash smells drugs, she will alert Johnson by  sitting down; her
breathing increases as a natural  emotional response.

But it's the handler's fault, not Flash's, if the dog  is directed to
search the seats of the suspect vehicle  but not the trunk.

To start a search, Johnson must have some reason to  suspect that
drugs might be involved, rather than  leashing up the dog on every
traffic stop.

"We're not deploying the dog on the average Joe walking  down the
street," he said.

Johnson, who joined the department about three years  ago after a
two-year stint with the Puyallup Police  Department and five years as
a military policeman with  the Army, said he had wanted to work with a
drug dog  for several years. Before successfully applying for the 
extra duty, he rode with other handlers and attended  training on his
own time.

He sees it as an advancement of his career and an  opportunity to
improve his service to the department  and residents of Yakima --
"basically getting paid to  play with my dog."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin