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Farmington police propose reinstating canine unit to the force

Farmington town officials at Tuesday's meeting, are from left to right: Selectman Stephan Bunker, Selectman Chair Joshua Bell, Town Manager Richard Davis, Town Secretary Linda Grant, Selectman Matthew Smith and Selectman Michael Fogg.

FARMINGTON - Selectmen asked for more time to consider a proposal to add a drug detection dog to the police department.

Police Chief Jack Peck noted that there is almost a heroin overdose every day in Maine and there's a need to focus the department's resources toward stemming the flow of illegal drugs coming into the area.

"We recognize there is a drug problem," he said.

While the department has implemented the Operation Hope program to support those who are drug addicted get the help they need, and patrol officers now carry Narcan nasal spray as an emergency treatment for a suspected opioid overdose, there is more that needs to be done, Peck said.

Trying to stop people from bringing illegal drugs into Farmington in the first place is the main goal now. The problem is, Peck said, "we don't have the canines here on a regular basis" to help with the investigations. The Maine State Police and Franklin County Sheriff's Office do have dogs trained to detect illegal drugs, but are often not close enough to the Farmington area to respond quickly enough.

According to a 2015 U.S Supreme Court case, the use of drug-sniffing dogs can be used around the exterior of a vehicle during a routine traffic stop, but the time it takes to perform the sniff test should not unduly extend the length of the traffic stop beyond the initial reason for being pulled over. An officer who has stopped a vehicle in Farmington needs to have a trained dog within five minutes or so of the stop, Officer Michael Lyman said in his proposal to add a drug detection dog to the force.

Additionally, the majority of dogs currently trained to identify heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana can't differentiate between them, he said. Now that marijuana is legal for recreational use, a dog alerting its handler for the presence of an illegal drug may be identifying marijuana, which would not be grounds for a probable cause search or criminal charge.

As an example, Peck said two weeks ago Sgt. Edward Hastings was tipped off that a man was traveling in Farmington while transporting illegal drugs in his car. At the time, the nearest canine unit was in Phillips.

"We couldn't get the dog here in time," he said.

Lyman, who has a five-month-old dog, has volunteered to attend the state's nine-week canine training class so the department can respond quicker to calls when illegal drugs are suspected.

"Officer Lyman lives here locally; it would be a benefit to the community," Peck said.

The training class costs $700 and to convert a police cruiser for the dog is estimated to cost another $100. The department's training fund account could be used to pay those expenses. The next class starts in August.

Should Lyman attend the class, his normal shifts on duty would need to be covered by other officers during the training period. Peck said he can "absorb the costs in overtime" that are within his budget.

The department had a canine unit 16 years ago, but found there were "issues" at the time, he added, and the program was discontinued.

Selectmen questioned the costs associated with having a dog on the force, such as veterinary bills and the possible need for additional insurance coverage. Lyman said he was willing to pay for the veterinary costs.

"My biggest fear is that it becomes expensive at some point in the future," Selectman Matthew Smith said. "It's the cost part of it for me."

"Is it an addition? Yes. Can we absorb it? Yes. I am behind it. We've been reactive so far and we want to be proactive. It's killing people," Peck said.

Selectmen asked for more information on the possible need for additional insurance should a canine unit join the department. They asked that the program be on a trial basis in which a record of the number of stops the dog is called to, all costs, and other related information be reviewed.

In other police department matters, selectmen gave the green light for the town to accept a forfeiture of items from a drug case that occurred last summer. The items are 20 firearms, and a 2006 Honda Accord. Peck said he plans on using the car for surveillance-type cases and the firearms will be either be kept for use by the department or be destroyed.

Two grant awards were accepted by selectmen. A Maine Bureau of Highway Safety grant totaling $13,143.22 will go towards 64 hours of overtime pay for speed enforcement details, which will be conducted now through September.

A second grant of $1,000 from the Healthy Community Coalition will allow the department to purchase a portable alcohol breath detector and be used for officers' overtime pay on spot checks for underage alcohol consumption.

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11 Responses »

  1. Why would we wait on a decision....he has the dog, is willing to invest his time and energy into training, the department will cover the shifts within budget and he is willing to to pay vet bills. I'm thinking if this possibly saves lives and prevents the devastating consequences of more drugs in the area the extra insurance costs are well worth it.

  2. Police officers are the front line of drug interdiction, response to crime and individuals who pose a threat to others and the officer. Many dealers, users, and customers of the illegal drug enterprise represent a threat to a police encounter. The resultant harm to individuals and society far surpasses any scale of reasonableness. When dealing with a person who may be armed, not unwilling to harm or kill; is an intense police encounter demanding extraordinary awareness and training. The aftermath of taking someone into custody, whose drug-induced resistance often reduces their perception of pain and elevates attempt to escape, is equally dangerous.

    Society demands substantial police involvement in all things related to illegal drug use or sale, often exposing the officer to danger and threat of harm. Police backup may not be readily available, exacerbating an uncertain situation, more so. It is an abnormal environment and support is critical.

    Police officers are certified in many areas of expertise as required by Maine Criminal Justice Academy standards. The same applies to those professions listed below, where education, training, and other criteria are necessary before the individual is allowed to practice their arts. We should not ask, nor expect, police to be all things to all situations.

    In all likelihood, the government should fund additional certified providers of medical, mental health, social services, crisis response, addiction counselors, therapists and others who could engage with critical assistance, at the time of police encounter. However, on a 24/7 hour basis, most are not available nights, weekends or holidays. And that presents a huge void that the criminal justice system manages.

    I would recommend that elected officials spend two or more shifts in a police cruiser with an officer to experience day, evening and night conditions. Until you see, smell, feel, hear and sometimes taste the aftermath of crime and violence, there remains a vague understanding of value when making informed decisions.

    Responsibility rests with the individual citizen to act lawfully; but we are all too aware of those who venture outside the parameters and do things that are illegal, harmful and occasionally deadly.

    Research is clear, a trained dog can manage many diverse situations with proper handling and training and as an extension of the officer, and it is a combination where 1 + 1 equals more than 2.

    See: https://cops.usdoj.gov/html/dispatch/12-2013/police_and_dog_encounters.asp

  3. If my memory is correct..... I recall reading where the town wants to make our parks more appealing by putting up lights. I believe they may have approved this or not debating it publicly but they are worrying about the cost of a dog that would save lives in our community ??? What's up with that? I would think the selectmen wouldn't have had any hesitation on that subject considering the problem our community has . Do we want pretty lights in our parks or do we want a bunch of junkies hanging around our parks ?

  4. What happens to all the money and valuable property that is confiscated at a drug bust? Can't that drug money be used to fight drugs?

  5. Stop over thinking and second guessing..just do it. Dogs save lives and provide a valuable service and they are happy to do it. Win win situation.

  6. Got some pretty smart citizens in here...I agree put the dogs in effect now.

  7. Some very good suggestions from the previous postings. This is a "no-brainer"!!! Just do it and "Git Er Dun"!!!!

  8. Lyman already has the dog and is willing to pay the vet bills. No brainer. We need to keep drugs out of Franklin County. Farmington select people, please do this for our community.

  9. Drug sniffing canines have proven effective around the country. Being dependent on dogs arriving from other jurisdictions in a timely manner is impractical. This would be money well spent.

  10. Sounds like a great idea! Hopefully they make this happen. Officer Lyman is a great officer who does a lot for the town. Giving him a K9 to use will make him that much more effective.
    He's already an OUI hound. Now he can be a drug hound too!

  11. I think this is great...but don't think it is free....pretty pitiful hearing the howling and gnashing of teeth every time the budgets are presented and how it impacts your taxes. Lots of wants so very few resources.

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