Warren County Officers and Canines

Canine Interventions

Law enforcement dogs sniff out illicit prescription narcotics in Ohio County

The two newest members of Ohio's Warren County Sheriff's Office and the county's Drug Task Force are ready to serve and protect.

Tango, an 18-month-old German shepherd, is a patrol canine who recently received his certification in tracking, area and building searches for people, evidence recovery, narcotic odors, bite work, obedience, handler protection, agility courses and patrol routes. The certification program for Tango took 320 hours.

Kash, a two-year-old Belgian Malinois, received certification training for narcotic odors, currency odors, 12 of the most commonly abused prescription drug odors—including Xanax, Oxycontin and Vicodin—agility courses and obedience. He is believed to be the only law enforcement drug dog in the country who can detect prescription drugs in pill and pure form and U.S. currency. He assists the sheriff's office with consent searches and executing search warrants. The certification program for Kash took 120 hours.

In addition to Tango and Kash, Kilo, a Labrador, has been serving Warren County for three years as a narcotics dog. He has helped seize hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of assets.

Unique Challenges Call For Unique Abilities

The rate of prescription drug abuse is rising as people are switching from street drugs to easily available and accessible pharmaceutical drugs. Rates of pharmaceutical drug abuse exceed that of all other drugs except marijuana.

In Ohio, there is an epidemic of prescription drug overdoses. Data shows the number of drug-overdose deaths in Ohio surpasses motor-vehicle deaths. Some of the most commonly abused brands of prescription drugs are Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocet, Tylenol with Codeine No. 3, Valium and Xanax. Southern Ohio has four times the prescription drug distribution rate compared to Northern Ohio.

Prescription drug abuse creates unique challenges for law enforcement and public health agencies, which is why a pharmaceutical-sniffing police dog is so valuable in the field. A dog's sense of smell is almost 50 times more sensitive than a human's.

Unleashed

Tango has already been used in a few cases.

"On the second shift we worked, we were called to a vehicle stop and asked to walk around the car," said Deputy Kelly Hammonds, Tango's handler. "Tango alerted on the vehicle, and we found marijuana and marijuana pipes inside."

Kash has not yet worked on any cases, but he will be an asset for the county. "We have a high amount of prescription pill trafficking in Ohio," said Deputy Brian Lewis, Kash and Kilo's handler. "Since pills are small, suspects can hide a large amount of them in a small area. Kash will hopefully catch or deter suspects from doing this."

Each of the dogs cost between $5,000 to $8,000 and were paid for through asset forfeiture and grants from the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, a non-profit organization that facilitates cooperation between law enforcement, healthcare professionals, state regulatory agencies and pharmaceutical manufacturers in the prevention and investigation of prescription drug diversion. No county funds were used to purchase the dogs. Each of the dogs' annual expenses cost $600, and a local veterinarian offers free healthcare services.

"There is no question that the addition of these two canines will be a significant boost to Warren County law enforcement and the citizens," Commander John Burke said. "In Tango's case, the sheriff's office now has a canine who can track suspects, lost kids and senior citizens. Tango has an excellent tracking sense and will do well in critical situations. He also is a patrol dog, also something new to the sheriff's office, and will be able to search buildings and become aggressive on command when a situation arises to protect his handler or other officers."

Intensive Training

Police dog training involves positive reinforcement and game play. Since prescription drug training for law enforcement canines is not yet standard, special procedures were developed for Kash. Trained by Deputy Brian Lewis with assistance from Hill's Compounding Pharmacy, a Milford, Ohio, company specializing in the preparation of customized medications to meet specific needs, Kash sits when he identifies an odor he was trained to detect. If he is correct, he is rewarded with his favorite toy, which is a rubber tube.

Due to Kash's unique abilities, he is available to serve all police agencies in the region.

"Certification is crucial in police canines; it's not just for a piece of paper, but an unbiased confirmation of their weeks of work with these dogs," Burke said. "Training does not stop after confi rmation. These deputies have a formal training session every Wednesday, but in actuality, they are involved in ongoing training and reinforcement of their dogs every day. In addition, they have 24/7 care of the animals, who live with them and their families."

When the dogs are off duty, they enjoy being a part of the deputies' families. Their favorite pasttime is playing fetch.

"Tango loves to play with the kids and has already become very protective of the family, especially our youngest children," Hammonds said. "He will lay on the floor and let them climb all over him."

"Kash is a very social dog and loves to be right next to me," Lewis said. "He gets along well with the two other dogs I have."

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