On May 28th Snoqualmie Police Chief Perry Phipps asked the city council for approval to explore adding a drug dog to the department, increasing the SPD’s level of service.
Phipps commented, “I don’t want to say that we have a problem that is so out of control. This is a beautiful community, but I want to keep it that way.”
The department recently formed a nonprofit and plans to seek private donations to fund the estimated $10,000 – $15,000 needed to purchase the dog and the cover the specialized training of the canine and its handler. SPD would train a current officer to fill the role as handler.
Chief Phipps told the council there would be no impact to the department’s budget as donations would be utilized. Council unanimously approved the request.
Currently SPD calls in drug dogs from Washington State Patrol or King County Sheriff’s Office when they are needed and according to Phipps there’s no guarantee the canine can get there quickly. If it can’t, for example, a car suspected of containing drugs may go un-searched because the driver can only be detained for so long. He said the threshold for probable cause is stringent and unless the driver gives permission for a search, they often rely on drug detection dogs to get search warrants approved.
A narcotics dog was described as a resource tool for the department and it would be used in a ‘Three-Prong” approach: Education, Detection and Suppression. Phipps said their main focus would be education which starts with kids in the community.
SPD Officer Fischbeck, who led the narcotic canine research, said the department is pursuing an “approachable” dog breed like a Shepard, Pointer or Spaniel so as not to scare kids. He said a friendly, approachable dog can open up conversations with local kids – explaining that when they tell kids what the dog is trained to do, it can start a dialogue about drugs.
Chief Phipps said SVSD administration is very supportive of the addition of a drug dog, saying they are “100% behind school safety” and see the potential dog a tool in creating safer schools. He said SPD is still in early talks with administrators to determine how the dog would be used in education and enforcement within the district. When asked if the dog would be used at the high school to detect drugs on campus, Phipps said it is a possibility but that would be worked out in the future. He added that just knowing SPD had a drug dog on staff might also work as a deterrent to students.
Fischbeck said the dog would be trained only to detect methamphetamines, heroin and cocaine. Since opioids and marijuana are legal, it would not be trained to detect those scents. When detected, the dog would sit near where the drugs were located. He cautioned that it would not be used to attack like often portrayed in movies.
So exactly how prevalent are drugs are in Snoqualmie and North Bend – the two cities SPD patrols with a combined population of about 21,000? Phipps said they don’t for sure, but they know there are in the community. A narcotics dog would be a tool in finding that answer, because Phipps said currently the department doesn’t have the resources to determine exactly what’s there.
He noted that Snoqualmie and North Bend’s proximity to I-90 and SR 18 also increases the need for drug detection, saying that the freeways are a major east-west route for drug transportation.
According to SPD Cpt. Nick Almquist, since January 2018 to May 2019 there have been 87 drug related arrests in Snoqualmie (est. pop. 14,000) and 79 in North Bend (est. pop. 7,000). These include charges like drug and drug paraphernalia possession. Almquist said these are just the drug related arrests they’ve made ‘without actively having the resources to find them.’
According to the Washington State Uniform Crime Reporting Program, in 2017 statewide there were nearly 12,000 drug/narcotic violation arrests, with 10.2% of arrestees being under the age of 18. Methamphetamines and heroin were involved in the majority of the arrests. According to the report’s ‘arrests by percentage’ data, drug violation arrests were #4, topped by DUI, Simple Assault and Theft/Larceny. The report also noted alcohol and drug usage being a factor in other types of crimes.
SPD hopes to have a narcotic canine in the next 3-6 months. If the department is successful it will be the first of its size in the area to do so. Almquist said larger departments like Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond. Seattle, KCSO, WSP have narcotics dogs, but that Monroe PD might be the closest and comparably sized to employee narcotic canines. Monroe currently has three dogs that are used for narcotics as well as tracking.
Phipps said he is confident they’ll be able to raise the money needed bring a drug detection dog to the department and believes its addition will only make the community safer.