One might imagine that a high-energy 2-year-old male, however friendly and eager to please, isn’t yet cut out to be a police officer.
But when that officer is a fully grown Belgian malinois (a variety of the Belgian shepherd dog breed) that can sniff out narcotics, track down missing persons and serve as a mascot for the police department, it’s easy to see the wisdom in giving him a position on the force.
Last month, the Cannon Beach Police Department added a ninth officer to its ranks. His name is “Cash,” his radio call sign is 709 and he is training to be a crime-fighting canine with his handler, Officer Josh Gregory.
“He is an officer,” said Gregory, who has been with the department for about four and a half years. “I just get to be the lucky guy to direct him.”
Cash — who was donated by Tami Schultz, a volunteer with Clatsop County Search and Rescue — recently moved into the home Gregory shares with his family.
During September, Cash and Gregory are undergoing four weeks of narcotics training classes with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. By the end, Cash will be intimately familiar with the smells of heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine.
So, in the future, when Gregory utters the magic words “find dope!” Cash should be able to “alert” Gregory — by barking, sitting upright or some other tell — to the narcotics’ unseen presence during drug interdictions.
After the classes, a representative of the Pacific Northwest Police Detection Dog Association will test Cash’s drug-detection abilities. If he passes, Cash and Gregory will become a certified dog/handler team.
This means Gregory will be able to testify, in drug-related court cases, that Cash’s behavior toward, say, a vehicle stopped on the highway gave the officer probable cause to search the vehicle.
The team will need to be recertified once a year.
When winter rolls around, Schultz and the police department are going to train Cash on ground tracking in both urban and natural environments for search-and-rescue operations, Chief Jason Schermerhorn said.
Should someone get lost in, for example, the Ecola Creek Forest Reserve, Cash will be able to follow the missing person’s scent and lead officers to him or her.
The goal is for Cash to become a “dual purpose” — i.e., drug-detection and search-and-rescue — K-9 officer within about six months.
When Cash is certified, he will be the only narcotics dog in Clatsop County at the moment, Schermerhorn said. Gregory expects that other law enforcement agencies, even those in Tillamook County, will want to make use of Cash.
Cash “will be invaluable,” Schermerhorn said.
“We all pride ourselves on helping each other,” Gregory said, adding that the program could last up to seven years or more, depending on Cash’s health. “This is something we need.”
When the department proposed the K-9 officer program late last year, one of the big questions was whether the dog would be trained to detect marijuana.
At first, the answer was yes. But things have changed in the intervening months.
“I feel — and a lot of officers feel — that we need to accept the fact that marijuana could be (legalized) in any election,” Gregory said. He added that he expects Oregon voters will pass Measure 91, the Oregon Legalized Marijuana Initiative, by an overwhelming margin in November. “It’s one of those things where we just kind of got to go with the flow here.”
Gregory said that, in the two states that have legalized recreational pot, Colorado and Washington, there have been situations where certified narcotics dogs — who have been rewarded many times over many years for finding marijuana — suddenly have to be retrained. The process of teaching these old dogs the new trick of “marijuana refusal” has not been successful, he said.
“Can you imagine training those dogs not to hit on marijuana now, after they’ve been doing it for five years?” he said. “We don’t want to set ourselves up for that.”
The department is fortunate, then, to have found a blank slate, as it were, rather than an animal that requires deprogramming.
“We’re trying to find the hard-core stuff,” Gregory said.
Through the combined promotional efforts of Gregory, Schermerhorn and Officer Devon Edwards, the department was able to raise $27,000 for the K-9 officer program after setting a fundraising goal of $25,000.
The program received overwhelming support, Gregory said.
“Everyone was extremely happy about the idea,” he said. “There was never much of an opposition to it.”
The department crossed the fundraising finish line in August when a chili cook-off, hosted by the Helping Hands Reentry Outreach Center in Seaside, raised money through donations and auctioning off donated items. Sponsors of the cook-off included CareOregon, Pacific Personnel and RE/MAX River & Sea. The event made it possible for Alan Evans, CEO of Helping Hands, to hand a $2,500 check over to the department.
The money will pay for the leashes, harnesses, dog toys, a dog cage for the police vehicle, a first-aid kit and narcotics ingestion kit for Cash, and other equipment that keeps the program going.
In addition, Dogs Allowed Cannon Beach has pledged to donate all of Cash’s food for the life of the program. Dr. Robert Remensnyder, a veterinarian at the Seaside Pet Clinic, said he would provide routine care for Cash at his own expense.
The K-9 officer program was created “by the community,” Gregory said.