Military-like trained dogs could cause problems for Harlem K-9 unit

News 12 at 11 / Friday, March 15, 2014

HARLEM, Ga. (WRDW) -- The Harlem Police Department is getting a new officer, but this one will have four legs and a great sense of smell.

They're working on getting their first K9 drug dog. They've already been offered two bomb sniffing dogs, but the Chief has turned them down. Turns out, having the wrong kind of dog could turn into breaking the law.

Chico is Grovetown's police dog, and he's an expert at finding drugs.

"He's trained on the legal detection of narcotic odor," said handler Corporal Joseph Greene.

It's the kind of officer Harlem's looking to add to their line up. But, even after two free offers, there's still no dog.

"We have recently turned down two dogs, one as early as of yesterday that had training that was associated with EOD or explosives," Harlem Police Chief Gary Jones said.

Bomb trained dogs, or powder dogs, could be a problem around these parts because if they're on a traffic stop, they could alert to either illegal narcotics, or legal gunpowder, and the officers wouldn't know the difference. That's a problem in a strong hunting, gun-owning area near a prominent military base.

"If it alerted on weapons and we were looking for narcotics, as far as I'm concerned, it would be illegal searches," Jones said.

That would jeopardize their cases against criminals in court.

"We could not testify on the stand that we were absolutely positive that the dog alerted on the illegal narcotic that he'd been trained in," Jones explained.

So, the search continues to find the perfect dog. When they do, Chief Jones says they'll be ready for the big busts, especially being so close to I-20, a known drug trafficking corridor.

"A lot of drug couriers decide to jump off of that, and take secondary routes," Jones admitted.

Some of those secondary routes run right through Harlem. Jones says since the beginning of the year, they've made around 40 drug arrests that started as traffic stops. But, he says once they get a dog like Chico, they hope word spreads to stay out of their town.

"Chico's on the street, watch out for Chico!" Corporal Greene imitated. "And that word does get around and they stay out of the city."

Chief Jones just applied for a grant from K9s for Cops, a private company out of Texas that donates dogs to law enforcement. A dog like this usually costs 10 to 15-thousand dollars.

Chief Jones says Harlem will have a K-9 by summertime.

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