Pubdate: Sat, 23 May 2009
Source: San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Copyright: 2009 San Antonio Express-News
Author: Robert Crowe
Bookmark: (Drug Dogs)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


San Antonio police dog Mack scratched a hole into a 40-pound bag of
sugar after pinpointing the scent of crystal methamphetamine his
trainers had planted.

Behind the Belgian tervuren, other dogs in the San Antonio Police
Department K-9 Unit appeared eager as the waited for their turn to
sniff out hidden drugs in the training exercise. But before they could
begin, many of the department's canines and handlers were forced to
interrupt their training to be dispatched elsewhere.

"It's not uncommon for us to have to go out on a call before we can
continue training," said Sgt. Laura Cole, head of the K-9 Unit. "It
can be challenging because we are short on officers."

The Police Department has eight officers handling 17 police dogs - an
unusually low number for a city the size of San Antonio, according to
Jim Watson, secretary of the National American Police Work Dog

Police Chief William McManus has acknowledged the shortfall and has
made an effort to expand the K-9 Unit since arriving in San Antonio in
2006. In the past two years, he has added two officers to the unit.

McManus has said he wants to more than double the K-9 division so 18
officers could each have a dual-purpose dog to conduct searches for
narcotics and humans. Currently, only three of the department's 17
police dogs are dual-purpose dogs.

"The citizens of San Antonio will be much better serviced with added
K-9 staffing," McManus said.

San Antonio's current K-9 Unit staff pales in comparison to other
major cities such as Dallas, which has 19 handlers, and Phoenix, which
has 21. San Diego, Calif., has 59 handlers and El Paso, 12.

Matching the other departments will be costly. Each dual-purpose dog
can cost $12,000, and the specially equipped Ford Expeditions the K-9
handlers in San Antonio drive cost $60,000, Cole said. For now, SAPD
does not have funds to reach its K-9 Unit goals, so the department is
looking to private donations.

With the help of the Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association's Paws
for Justice fund, the Police Department recently purchased two young
police dogs.

"It's important that we get more animals so we don't have to overwork
one particular dog," said Ed Berner, president of the alumni

The Police Department's K-9 Unit in the past two years helped seize
$635,580 in drug money, 509 pounds of marijuana, 31,121 grams of
cocaine and 2,669 grams of heroin, police said.

"As smart as man is, we haven't been able to invent a machine that can
smell drugs or tell us where a person has walked," Watson said. "Dogs
are sophisticated investigative tools." 
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