Moscow police make pitch for drug dog

Roger Lanier

MOSCOW — The Moscow Police Department is asking the city to include as much as $10,650 in next year’s budget for a drug-sniffing dog, which department officials say will aid in traffic stops, emphasis patrols and education outreach.

Police Cpt. Roger Lanier said the dog would likely be funded through the city’s contributions and donations, as well as civil asset forfeitures, which he describes as drug money seized during drug investigations.

Officials from the police departments and other city departments were on hand Monday at a budget workshop in Moscow. The fiscal year 2020 budget takes effect in October. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Aug. 5.

Lanier said the goal would be to deploy the dog both as a crime detection and drug education tool. He emphasized the dog will not be trained to bite or attack people.

“(The dog) is a tool to allow us to start a conversation about drugs — take the dog into the school, and what kid doesn’t like a dog?” Lanier said. “That gives you the opportunity to educate these kids and give drug talks.”

If approved, Lanier said it will take until at least the early spring to select and train both the dog and its handler. He said the handler would likely be chosen from the ranks of current officers and would live, train and certify with the animal, and be responsible for its care.

While Lanier said he hopes the presence of the dog will deter drug activity in the Moscow area, he said having the dog will not have an impact on how the department polices the community.

He said there are numerous U.S. Supreme Court decisions that limit the use of drug-sniffing dogs, including two recent rulings. One prohibits officers from artificially prolonging a traffic stop to allow for the arrival of the dog, and the other found that having a dog sniff outside of a private residence constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment and thus requires both probable cause and a warrant.

Moscow Police Chief James Fry told city councilors Monday the dog would likely be trained to detect heroin and other opioids, methamphetamine, cannabis and possibly cocaine.

“(We’re) trying to make an impact on our opioid problem,” Fry said. “Not two weeks ago, we had another overdose death and we’re seeing a continued rise. We’re seeing it weekly now compared to even a year ago, when we’d see it maybe monthly.”

Lanier said the first line of defense in minimizing drug use and abuse — particularly in the face of an epidemic in opioid use — is prevention and education. He said it is easier to abstain from drug use than it is to quit once addicted. Having fewer addicts in the criminal justice system is also far less costly to the state.

Failing prevention, Lanier said, in his experience, many former drug addicts say getting caught is what helped them get clean.

“I can tell you, from having been involved with specialty courts — drug court, mental health court — those people often say that the best thing that ever happened to them was getting busted,” Lanier said.

In his statements to city council members, Fry echoed that sentiment.

“We’re using this as a means to get people into treatment so we can hopefully slow down this crisis,” Fry said.

Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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