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New addition to police force among the top drug detectors
By Kevin Hanson, The Courier-Herald
Enumclaw's latest tool in the ongoing effort to crack down on drugs graduated at the top of his class, registering a perfect score during a nighttime sweep of a warehouse where narcotics had been hidden in 30 spots.
Shadow, who will turn 3 next month and checks in at a healthy 52 pounds, used his super-sensitive nose to uncover marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and black tar heroin. The latest addition to the Enumclaw Police Department is a tail-wagging Lab-mix.
Now, the trained canine and handler Daron Wolschleger are turning their attention to the streets of Enumclaw where - echoing the trend found throughout the region, state and nation - drug use has climbed in recent years. The two have been on patrol for almost three weeks and made their first bust early last week. In that case, Wolschleger made a rather routine traffic stop, but soon picked up on certain "indicators" that drugs might be present. Shadow was called into action and quickly located 13.1 grams of meth, hidden under the front seat of the car.
The city police force had a K-9 unit years ago, but that was a different scenario. The dog at that time was trained to track and apprehend those fleeing from the police. Shadow is nothing like that, trained only to detect five different illegal drugs; biting had no place in his formal education.
The city decided last year to reinstate its K-9 unit, using money from its "narcotics seizure fund" to pay for the program. The city can keep property turned up during drug arrests and sell the assets, supporting the fund. Several officers volunteered to become a handler and, after a review by Department of Corrections staff, Wolschleger was chosen. "I believe in the programand that it will be good for the city," he said. Wolschleger has friends in other police departments who are dog handlers, and has received glowing reports.
Earlier this year, Wolschleger headed for the McNeill Island Correctional Center, the state prison where the DOC maintains its dog-training program. Coming home only on weekends, the Enumclaw police officer spent 240 hours learning to work with a four-legged partner. During the first week, Wolschleger said, he worked with all 12 dogs going through the training session; class instructors observed both humans and dogs and eventually made their pairings based on "chemistry," the officer said.
During their weeks at McNeill Island, dogs are trained to alert their handlers to even the slightest scent of narcotics. There was a time when dogs were trained to uncover a drug, perhaps scratching at a bag or door to locate their target. That system resulted in damaged evidence and put dogs at risk, Wolschleger said, explaining that Shadow was trained in a "passive sit" manner. "He gets his nose as close to the narcotic as he can, and then sits," Wolschleger said.
With that, police can request a search warrant. "He has the same search powers as a human officer," Wolschleger said, adding that Shadow's behavior establishes "probable cause."
Just how good is Shadow? The McNeill Island training school has operated for 19 years and 260 teams have graduated from the course, Wolschleger said. Of all those, only five dogs have achieved a perfect score on their final exam - finding all 30 narcotics samples during a sweep of a warehouse - and Shadow is the latest to join that elite group.
An Enumclaw squad car has been modified to accommodate Shadow, who accompanies Wolschleger as the officer makes his normal patrol. In addition, the two are on call 24 hours a day, ready to respond when another officer suspects drugs might be found in a car, house or another structure. And Shadow can be shared, on call to other police departments in the area.
Dogs in the program come from either the Tacoma Humane Society or from families that, for a variety of reasons, must part with their pets. Wolschleger said Shadow came from the latter route, and was nominated to the program from a Seattle family.
Kevin Hanson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org