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April 24, 2004 - The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (AR)

Drug Dogs Hone Noses In National Competition

By Michelle Bradford

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

FAYETTEVILLE -- Police K-9 teams sniffed for the title of top drug dog Friday when the National Narcotics Detection Dog Association wrapped up its annual convention.

The week-long convention, hosted by the Fayetteville Police Department, drew dogs and their police officer partners from across the country.

More than 150 dogs trained all week in Fayetteville, searching for drugs hidden in designated buildings and buried outdoors. About 40 earned annual NNDDA certifications by detecting marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin.

Police rely on certifications from NNDDA and other groups, plus in-house training to keep their dogs sharp. The Washington County sheriff's office and the Fayetteville, Bentonville and Johnson Police Departments certified K-9 teams this week.

Many dogs are cross-trained in narcotics detection, tracking and search-and-rescue. In Northwest Arkansas, police say they focus their dogs' noses on sniffing out drugs on the streets. "Since 9/11, dope has hit the highways," Fayetteville K-9 officer Cpl. Robin Fields said. "We find drugs in vehicles now more than ever. We used to see it transported on buses, coming in by plane. Not so much anymore."

Friday's conference finale was a search competition at the University of Arkansas' Barnhill Arena. At the direction of their handlers, 163 dogs scoured old furniture and other props for hidden marijuana and cocaine. The goal was to find the most drugs in three minutes with the least number of false indications.

Edward Greer of the Jefferson Parish, La., sheriff's office and his dog, Max, took first place. From Northwest Arkansas, Washington County sheriff's deputy Rick McDaniel and his dog, Miss Lucy, placed eighth.

NNDDA founder John Chandler said the 12 top K-9 teams win plaques, but its the credit that counts. "NNDDA is a nationally recognized training group," said Chandler, a retired sheriff 's deputy from Williamson, Texas. "For the officer, winning means recognition and plenty of pats on the back from his colleagues."

Nationally, an increasing number of police are adding dogs to their departments, said NNDDA secretary Terry Uetrecht. "Prey-driven" dogs like Belgium Malinois, German shepherds and Labrador retrievers are favorites, he said. "Dogs give you more bang for your buck," Uetrecht said. "They cost $5,000 to $10,000 apiece. They don't need medical insurance, they eat $3 worth of food a day and give you seven to 10 years -- nearly a lifetime of duty."

Besides being cheap labor, dogs are a safe police tool, Uetrecht said. An officer can recall his dog, but he can't recall a bullet or a baton strike. "If a bad guy gets a hold of your dog, he can't use it against you," Uetrecht said.

Besides the paws-on training this week, officers learned about the creative places traffickers hide drugs, such as car radiators and engine manifolds.

Johnson police certified their two K-9 teams at this week's conference.

Sgt. Mike Neville's German shepherd, Nitro, is an "aggressive alert" dog who scratches when he detects drugs. "Passive alert" dogs usually sit when they make a find.

Neville started Johnson's K-9 program four years ago to combat drugs. The dogs are also useful in quickly checking buildings. "Mostly it's the drugs," Neville said. "It's such lucrative and prevalent business, you almost have to have a K-9 program anymore to combat it."

Chandler said many K-9 programs pay for themselves through drug assets. Dogs lead police to drugs, and officers seize related money and property. With court approval, the assets are forfeited to police who apply them to drug combating efforts.

Since NNDDA formed in 1978, it's grown from 12 to 2,500 members, Chandler said. NNDDA's purpose is to provide dog training and expertise, which is especially valuable to small police departments that are short on resources.

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