Two Boardman Police cruisers joined vehicles from Canfield and McDonald police departments and a Sheriff's Department vehicle to search the 4-H barn at the Canfield Fairgrounds on Tuesday, Aug. 21. All five were K-9 units and the dogs found heroin, marijuana, and several other drugs hidden in the barn. They also found evidence in the form of a chewing tobacco can, cell phone, and a shotgun shell.
It sounds like a big raid, but it was actually part of an ongoing training exercise to keep the K-9 officers and their four-legged partners certified. Leading the exercise was Boardman K-9 Officer Brian Cionni, who serves as an Ohio certification officer.
"This exercise is required by federal standards," said Cionni. "The dogs have to be recertified every two years."
Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Boardman K-9 Officer Brian Cionni and his partner Eros find several items placed in the lawn by the Hay and Grain Building at the Canfield Fairgrounds last week during a training exercise with three other departments.
He said the certification is important in court cases where the dogs have played a role in an arrest. The judge normally asks for the dog's certification records and it is the handler-officer who serves as the dog's witness when it comes to testifying.
Cionni also said the dogs are required to put in 16 hours of training every month. At last week's session, real drugs were used to test the dogs' ability to locate it. The officers placed the drugs around the 4-H barn at the Canfield Fairgrounds. The drugs came from actual court cases. Cionni said when the case is closed, a judge can often award possession of the drugs to the police department to be used for K-9 training.
In the 4-H barn, officers hid the drugs under chairs, on door handles and even in the ceiling. The dogs were then released into the room and began a frantic sniffing effort. Boardman K-9 Sumo and his handler Officer Daryn Tallman wasted no time in rounding up all the drugs. Sumo jumped onto a table and froze with his head towards the ceiling where the heroin was hidden.
Once the dog finds the drugs, their favorite toy is tossed in front of them. That sets the dogs into play mode, which is their reward for a job well done.
"We always toss the toy where the drugs were found," Tallman said. "That way, they don't come to us when they find something, but instead stay focused on where the item is."
When the dogs finished inside the building, they headed to the large grassy lawn by the Hay and Grain Building. Cionni placed a can of chewing tobacco, a cell phone, and a shotgun shell around the area. Cionni then turned Eros loose and the dog found all three items.
"It is all about human scent," Cionni said. "The dog can't distinguish between a gun or an ink pen."
In most cases, Cionni said Eros and himself, or Tallman and Sumo are a team. He said the human half sets up the grid and directs the dog where to search. The dog's keen senses then do the rest.
The K-9 units have proven to be a big asset for the Boardman Police Department whether it be searching for weapons or protecting their human partners. Cionni said it is also nice that the dogs don't cost Boardman taxpayers anything.
Both Boardman dogs are from Holland, which meant their partners had to learn commands in Dutch. The training took place at Shallow Creek Kennels in Sharpsville, Pa., which is part of the $12,000 price tag.
Also, both Boardman dogs were purchased through donations, meaning the upfront costs were covered. After training, the dogs were sponsored. Both are sponsored by Harbor Pet in Boardman. All the food needs are covered by that sponsor.
As for veterinarian care, both dogs are also sponsored by South Mill Vet Clinic, which provides all the veterinarian services.
"The two Boardman dogs are virtually free to the community because of the sponsorship," Cionni said.
Eros and Suma still earn their keep when it comes to sniffing out illegal drugs, tracking criminals and apprehending the bad guys.
Following the training at the fairgrounds, both Boardman dogs and their handlers traveled to Elkton Correctional Institute, a federal prison in Columbiana County where the dogs were used to sniff sections of the prison for illegal drugs.
"It was real-life training," Cionni said.