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How legalizing recreational marijuana impacts police K-9 training

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Posted at 4:00 PM, Sep 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 09:23:26-04

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WKBW) — Police K-9s trained to detect narcotics are a helpful part of police work, so say members of law enforcement.

“He can smell things that I can’t see. So, if he smells any of the five drugs he’s trained on, he’s trained to aggressively scratch at the odor,” said N.Y.S. Police Troop A Trooper Michael Schmit.

Schmit’s canine, Nugent is a Dutch Sheppard. He joined the force in 2018. Schmit said Nugent’s job is slightly different now than if he had been trained five years ago. When he was trained in 2018, before marijuana was made legal for recreational adult use, his training didn’t include marijuana detection.

New York State Police Troop A Public Information Officer James O’Callaghan said it was part of a pro-active approach.

“We knew that this could be a possibility. So back in 2018, any K-9 that went through the academy out in Cooperstown, the narcotic dog specifically would not be (trained in) marijuana detection.”

O’Callaghan said six of its 98 narcotics K-9s had to be retired statewide to avoid hampering any police investigations.

The Erie County Sheriff’s Office took a similar approach. It also retired four K-9s trained to detect marijuana two years ago, and replaced them with new K-9s. A spokesman for the sheriff said they were purchased using seized assets and didn’t affect the sheriff’s budget.

Some believe narcotics K-9s should be done away with all together because they can give a trooper probable cause to search but can also be unreliable.

However, according to a 2014 study published in Forensic Science International—on average, hidden drug samples were indicated by dogs after 64 seconds of searching, with 87.7% indications being correct and 5.3% being false.

Training the dogs isn’t cheap. Trooper O’Callaghan said it ranges from $3,000-$8,000 per canine and that’s not including the trooper’s salary during the six month training academy. That’s why in western New York, two K-9s that are were trained prior to 2018 to detect marijuana remain active with the force. O’Callaghan said they aren’t typically used for narcotics detection. “They are duel purposes. Some of the marijuana detecting K-9s are also cadaver dogs, as well. So, they’re going to be able to find human body parts that may be deceased over a period of time.”