Chris Green, the recently-promoted Adams County Undersheriff, has a special partner assisting him in his duties. Bugsy, a four-year-old chocolate Labrador Retriever, began working with Green a little over a year ago. Trained to sniff illegal drugs, she rides in his patrol SUV whenever they’re on duty and lives with him when they’re off duty.
Bugsy comes to Adams County from Pacific Coast Canine, a facility near the Canadian border in northwestern Washington that trains dogs for law enforcement, patrol, tactical deployment (S.W.A.T), and explosive, narcotic or cadaver detection. A dog like Bugsy costs about $6,500, a significant investment in money as well as training and time. Bugsy has been trained to find four drugs: marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. Green, who grew up in Council and has been with the Sheriff’s Office for over eight years, says Bugsy more than makes up for her initial cost in the illegal drugs she finds and assistance she provides the department.
Bugsy is also a wonderful public relations and educational tool for the Adams County Sheriff’s Office. “We’re at the schools quite a bit,” says Green. “Kids love dogs, and she loves kids.”
Training a K-9 Officer According to Green, a dog trained for narcotics detection can be any breed so long as they have the right temperament and a strong ball drive. When the dog is asked to search and they score a find – or search on command but don’t find anything – the reward is a brief bit of play with a ball (or in Bugsy’s case, sometimes a Kong on a rope), a toy they love and are willing to work to attain. When a drug-sniffing dog like Bugsy sees their handler pick up the ball or Kong, they know it’s time to get down to the business of searching, that the reward comes only after they work.
Bugsy had acquired some training at Pacific Coast Canine, but once teamed with Green, the two of them underwent additional training so that he could become her sole handler. Bugsy is Green’s second K-9 partner. With the first, he and the dog went through five weeks of intensive training supervised by a former police officer in Nampa. Once an officer like Green does that sort of training, they’re certified to work with the next dog without repeating that training, although Green must still prove competency and gain approval with the new dog. Thereafter, they undergo yearly recertification to ensure evidence obtained with the dog’s assistance is admissible in court.
Green spent roughly six weeks of informal training time with Bugsy, to learn her mannerisms and how to work with her. Now, Green figures he and Bugsy spend about four hours every week in training, everything from basic obedience to searching for drugs. Green never points to where drugs are hidden for training purposes because Bugsy needs to be able to search without cues. He might sweep his hand along a general area he wants her to sniff, for example the side of a vehicle, but never points to a specific spot. This regular, informal training keeps both their skill sets fresh while maintaining their working bond. In the process, Green has become an expert at reading Bugsy’s body language as she’s working.
Bugsy’s Busts Green explains that Bugsy, and other drug-sniffing K-9 officers, have plenty of work to do along Idaho’s Highway 95 corridor where drugs are moved through the state. If another officer makes a traffic stop based on probable cause and notices the smell or marijuana, for example, or sees what appear to be drugs in the vehicle, and maybe the driver is nervous and things aren’t adding up, giving the officer a reasonable suspicion of illegal drugs, Green and Bugsy are called in. Green will have Bugsy sniff around the vehicle, see if she alerts to drugs. Other times, the department might be conducting drug interdiction stops along Highway 95. “I’ll run the dog around the car, ask a few questions,” says Green. “Ninety-five percent of the time, everything’s fine.” Green points out that if he’s on routine patrol and stops someone for a driving infraction, he doesn’t include Bugsy – she stays in his vehicle – unless, when interacting with the driver, Green develops a reasonable suspicion of illegal drugs in the vehicle.
With the vehicles Bugsy has alerted to, Green says they usually find marijuana, sometimes meth. “Some people, after first denying they have any illegal drugs, cave as soon as they see Bugsy approach their vehicle,” he says.
Sometimes Bugsy will alert but the driver is innocent. Green described one example recently where Bugsy alerted to a rented trailer. “The smell remained in the trailer,” Green explains. “The longer the drug sets there, the stronger the odor. It ‘cooks’ in the vehicle and sets.” Of course, Bugsy smells the lingering odor. Green was able to gauge Bugsy’s body language and realize the situation. “Each K-9 handler can only use and read their dog,” he says.
Here’s a video of Bugsy and Green doing a training search at the Meadows Valley Emergency Services station.
Green says Bugsy gets a certain look when she’s found drugs. Her eyes bulge, her ears change position, and she stares at Green as if to say, “It’s here. Can I have my ball now?” In training, when Green has hidden drugs somewhere, he won’t let Bugsy have the ball unless she truly has found the drugs; no bluffing allowed, no matter how badly she wants her toy. If Green is slow in providing her ball as reward – because he’s talking to a journalist, for example, explaining what’s happening – she “finds” the planted drugs and alerts again, looking at Green imploringly until she’s given her ball. Once Green tosses her toy, Bugsy’s body instantly relaxes and she happily frolics with the ball in mouth, her job done.
In addition to drug interdiction stops and calls to assist when other officers have stopped vehicles with suspected drugs, Bugsy does sweeps in the county jail and goes along when officers have a warrant to search a building for drugs. Green will sometimes walk Bugsy through the courthouse parking area, adjacent to the Sheriff’s Office, on court days. He says it’s surprising how often she alerts there.
Off-duty Bugsy Green has three kids, ages ten, eight and six. He also has two other dogs, so Bugsy gets plenty of non-ball play time at home. “It’s handy to have kids to play with her,” Green says, laughing. “Fetch time is good time. She’s also a swimmer.” Green describes Bugsy as lazy at home, with her own coach and sleeping in his son’s bed most nights. Like most Labs her age, Bugsy has lots of energy so being able to play with kids and dogs at home is a great release for her. “She’s like a human,” says Green. “She has days she wants to work, and other days when she doesn’t. I don’t want to over-train her. With my first drug dog, after a month of five-days-a-week training, she was over it, so with Bugsy I try to not train daily. That way, when she sees the toy, she wants to work. Most of the time, our job isn’t too stressful. And often, if something cool is going on, we get called to go.”
Bugsy is friendly and happy, like most pet Labs you might encounter. She doesn’t wear a vest when working. She looks like any well-behaved, friendly dog, right down to the furiously-wagging Lab tail that can feel like a whip against your leg. She spends much of her working day in the back of Green’s patrol vehicle, behind a barrier; he leaves the vehicle running most of the time so she has heat in winter and air conditioning in summer. If he needs to transport someone to the jail, Bugsy is chill about the passenger on the other side of her barrier. She probably helps reduce that person’s anxiety and stress, simply by being there. “But one time I fought a guy I was trying to arrest, on the side of the road,” says Green. “She saw it happening, and wanted at him. Normally, she’s really calm, but in that instance, she wanted to protect me.” One of the side benefits of having a K-9 officer like Bugsy is that Green rarely has to transport people who might be belligerent.
Green notes that a lot of marijuana is transported into and through Idaho now because most states around us have legalized or decriminalized it, or allow its medicinal use. If Idaho someday legalizes marijuana, that will be the end of Bugsy’s career as a K-9 officer. “She can’t differentiate between marijuana and the other three drugs she’s trained to find,” Green explains. In that case, she would likely become the family pet. In the meantime, having a K-9 partner is a bonus for Green. “It’s been fun,” he says. “I’m glad I did it, went through the training. It’s definitely been worth it.”