Last week, 13.9 grams of heroin was discovered in the 4-H barn at the Canfield Fairgrounds. It was found by five four-legged officers from local police departments.
The heroin, along with marijuana and several other drugs, were actually placed in the barn as part of a specialized K-9 training program. Dogs from Canfield, Boardman, McDonald and the Mahoning County Sheriff's Department each had an opportunity to track down drugs hidden throughout the barn.
"This exercise is required by federal standards," said Boardman K-9 Officer Brian Cionni, who also serves as a certifier for Ohio. "The dogs have to be recertified every two years."
Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Sgt. Larry McLaughlin of the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department and his partner Mercy celebrate after passing the drug sniffing test at the Canfield Fairgrounds.
He said the certification is needed should an arrest case go to court. He said a judge wants to be certain the dog was trained in the procedure that led to an arrest. It is required when the K-9 officer acts as a witness for the dog.
"Dogs can't be sworn in at court," Cionni said, "so the officer-partner is witness to the dog finding the drugs."
Among the five dogs was Canfield's own Thor, a German Shepherd that was born and raised in Holland. His partner is Canfield Officer Chad Debarr, who is proud of his partner's accomplishments.
"We've been together on the road for two years now," he said. "This year alone, Thor has made over 12 drug finds ranging from misdemeanors to felony arrests."
Since Thor comes from Holland, Debarr had to learn commands in Dutch. The two first met during an intensive training session at Shallow Creek Kennels in Sharpsville, Pa.
Debarr said when the dogs are deployed, they are excited and want to fulfill their mission so they will get a reward. The dog's award is a piece of rubber hose that they can chew on and play with.
They start their search by sniffing around the room. When they locate a hidden drug, they sit down and stare. At that point, the officer-partner throws the toy ahead of the dog, who grabs it and goes into play mode.
The cost for a dog like Thor is around $12,000, which includes the training. For Canfield, half the cost came in the way of a private donation.
As for food, Thor is sponsored by Blackwood Food in Lisbon. Debarr said he gets a couple of bags of food every month from that company, which helps keep monthly costs down. Grooming is done by Debarr himself.
Thor is also known as a dual purpose dog. He can do narcotic sniffing and tracking as well as apprehensions and partner protection.
Debarr said Thor is listed as a police officer and because of that designation, any criminal who would strike Thor would be assaulting a police officer.
"He is a police officer and hitting him would be a felony," Debarr said.
Following last week's exercise at the fairgrounds, all five K-9 units headed to Elkton Correctional Institute in Columbiana., a federal prison that uses the dogs to do building searches on a regular basis.
"It is real-life training in a real situation," Debarr said. "It is a great exercise for Thor and myself."