If Liberty Lake police Chief Brian Asmus has his way, his police department will be going to the dogs.
“We are researching putting in place a drug detection K-9 program,” he said.
Liberty Lake is bisected by Interstate 90, which brings a lot of nonresidents through town, and Asmus believes a drug dog would help keep those visitors in check. Officers already make a lot of marijuana possession arrests because they can smell the drug, but a dog’s keen nose would be able to sniff out a lot more. “We think the number of drug interdictions would increase substantially,” Asmus said. “A dog would be beneficial.”
A recent change in case law stipulates that police officers can no longer automatically search cars if someone is arrested. Such searches often turned up illegal substances and weapons. Now an officer must have probable cause or the driver’s permission in order to conduct a search. “It’s not considered a search to have the K-9 check the car,” Asmus said. “That would give us our probable cause.”
Since the dog would be trained to sniff out drugs rather than attack, it would also be ideal to bring to public appearances at schools and other locations. “It’s another way to reach out to the community,” Asmus said. “Everyone likes to pet the dog.”
Asmus is trying to find a way to get a program started without the city having to pay a dime. “We didn’t budget for it this year,” he said.
To that end he is looking at a program that pre-screens dogs rescued from shelters and gives them to police departments for free. Asmus has two officers interested in becoming K-9 handlers. The dog and handler would have to attend a six-week training class that costs $1,500, but Asmus said he already has community members interested in donating the money to cover the training.
Local veterinarians have offered to give the dog free care and another group has offered to donate the equipment needed to modify a patrol car for the animal. Asmus is also researching grants available to pay for dog food. “We’ve got people out there able and willing” to help, he said.
Asmus plans to take his research to the City Council’s public safety committee later this month. Eventually the full City Council would have to give its approval for the program, even if the entire cost is paid for by donors. Asmus hopes to have an answer this spring.