Pubdate: Wed, 13 Jun 2007
Source: Greensboro News & Record (NC)
Copyright: 2007 Greensboro News & Record, Inc.
Author: Eric J.S. Townsend
Bookmark: (Drug Dogs)


GREENSBORO -- A drug-sniffing police dog? On a university campus? 
This pooch may have its work cut out for it.

UNCG police welcomed its first four-legged officer to the force last 
month. Now in training, Aja, a German shepherd bred overseas, should 
be ready for duty by fall semester.

The dog and her handler, Sgt. David Combs, spend four days each week 
in north Greensboro with K9 officers from the city police department. 
So far, so good, said Combs, a 16-year veteran of the campus force.

"It takes a lot of patience to train them," he said last week, 
watching as Aja tore across a vacant lot in a new subdivision, 
scouring the ground for a pair of pliers tossed a dozen yards away as 

The sniffing sleuth spotted the tool. She scooped it in her jaws, 
trotted back to her handler and waited for the reward: a rubber ball 
pulled from Combs' pocket.

"The dog learns to associate the ball with the smell of narcotics or 
the items in the woods that are lost," Combs said later. "She doesn't 
want the drugs. She doesn't want the item. She wants the ball. If she 
doesn't find any drugs, she doesn't get a reward."

Police officials said last week that Aja won't be used to randomly 
patrol the dorms. In balancing public safety with personal privacy, 
the school tips the scale toward privacy -- for now -- though they 
want to use the dog in other investigations: for example, at DWI 
checkpoints, to track criminals who rob students on campus or who 
"jump and run" from a traffic stop, and at public events.

But don't think Aja will never show in the dorms, UNCG police Maj. 
Jamie Herring said.

If officers investigate claims of drugs in a particular room, the dog 
will be called in to help.

"Instead of the officer tearing up the room, it's easier to bring the 
dog in to find it," Herring said.

Aja arrived two months after a widely publicized dormitory shooting, 
where three men, including the son of N.C. State men's basketball 
coach Sidney Lowe, face charges in the drug-related attempted robbery.

Police officers said their proposal to buy the dog was submitted 
before the shooting. But officers think any opposition to its 
purchase within the administration evaporated after the attack.

Final approval for the dog was given a week later.

"I think had there been any opposition to it, from elsewhere in the 
university, after that and Virginia Tech, people started to see we 
need the proper tools to react to crimes," Herring said.

The police department budgeted $12,000 for the startup costs of the 
unit, including the dog itself, its kennel, its food and its vet 
bills for the first year. Herring said additional dogs may be 
considered after officers evaluate Aja's performance.

UNCG's police force isn't the first at a North Carolina university to 
use dogs. N.C. A&T police started dog patrols in 2003, and UNC-Chapel 
Hill police launched its own unit six months later.

Chapel Hill's dog specializes in explosive detection.

"It'll help deter drugs at the university," Combs said. "Even if we 
don't catch someone with drugs, just seeing the dog and knowing 
there's a dog on campus, it'll deter people from bringing drugs on campus.

"I think she'll do a lot more with deterrence than she will with 
finding stuff. And that's a good thing."
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