Wednesday, December 15, 2010

PSP Citizen's Police Academy: Week 7

Drug Investigations and K9s

by Annette Dashofy

The first half of week seven’s class was devoted to drug investigations. Some of what was covered, I blogged about a couple of years ago when I took the Pittsburgh Citizens’ Police Academy. So I’ll simply refer you to Part One and Part Two of that post for details on the different types of drugs out there, rather than repeat myself.

This time around, we were shown some of the different devices used to conceal drugs. Highlighter markers, pens, lipsticks, cigarette lighters. The list goes on and on. What looked like a bottle of water was actually a container for drugs: the top held water and the bottom held water, but the thing came apart and contained drugs in the middle!

As a result, once the police have done a search for drugs, the house is often left in a shambles, because they have to search EVERYWHERE.

Drugs can be a costly proposition. The mandatory drug sentences for possession of cocaine is 1 year for the first offense if in possession of 2 to 10 grams (one gram is about the size of a pouch of sweetener). It’s 3 years for the second offense. For selling, ten to one hundred grams will get you 3 years for your first offense, five years for the second. More than a hundred grams brings a four-year sentence for the first offense, seven for the second.

Heroin is even stiffer. One to five grams earns you a two year stay in prison for the first offense and three years for the second. And it keeps going up from there.

To give you some perspective on the cost of drugs, one ounce of gold is valued at $1,200. One ounce of cocaine is also $1,200. But one ounce of heroin will run you $10,000.

Did you know that crack looks like macadamia nuts? I didn’t!

Here are some of the techniques used by the police in a drug investigation:

Nonconsensual interceptions AKA a wire tap. These are very expensive and very labor intensive, requiring a court order. But if successful it will bring down an entire criminal organization, with their own voices convicting them.

Grand jury: here, the right to remain silent is taken away.

Consensual interception: One person in the conversation has agreed to cooperate. This method bolsters the credibility of informants. An interesting tidbit—we’re all used to seeing the scenes on TV shows and movies where someone is wearing a wire. That technique is all but obsolete now because the “wire” can be a specially designed cell phone. The undercover investigator can simply sit down and place their cell phone on the table... Honestly, these days, who would suspect? Plus the phones are real. The criminal could pick it up and make a call and would never be able to tell the difference.

Search warrants require only a brief investigation to show probable cause. The disadvantage is they provide only a snapshot of the criminal activity.

And lastly, undercover purchases.

The second half of the class was devoted to Trooper Brian Peters and K-9 Officer Iggy.

PA State Police dogs are specialists. There are 16 trained for drug detection, 6 trained for explosive detection, 3 that detect accelerants (arson dogs), and 2 tracking teams.

A big difference between the drug-sniffing dogs and the explosive-sniffing dogs is the drug teams pray they find something. The explosive teams pray they DON’T find anything.

FYI: PA State Police does NOT have any bite dogs.

Most of the dogs used are purchased. They can run from $5,000. to $7,000. Some dogs are donated, but only about 1 of 75 to 100 attempted donations pass the selection test. To be selected, a dog must be 12 to 36 months old. There isn’t really a specific breed, but they must show drive and must past an extensive vet exam including x-rays and bloodwork.

Handlers have lower standards! They must pass a written test and a physical fitness exam. There is an oral interview and supervisor evaluation, plus they must have at least 3 years of field service.

The highlight of the evening was when Officer Iggy showed his stuff by locating a stash of drugs Trooper Peters had hidden in the room. For the dog, it’s all a game. He wants his toy.

And as soon as he locates the drugs, he gets to play with his toy…which in Iggy’s case is a length of rubber pipe.

Hey, whatever makes him happy.

Next time: Tour of the County Jail and Night Court!


Gina said...

Annette -
Are you sure they said the right to remain silent doesn't apply in a grand jury investigation? That seems unconstitutional unless there was a grant of immunity from prosecution.

patremick said...

The K-9 units were among my favorites at the Citizen Police Academy I attended -- so interesting, and also our K-9s respond to commands only in German because that is how they are initially trained, which is scary in itself. I also enjoyed knowing that when the handlers take them home at night, they are just regular dogs again. I wish I could train my dog to do something useful -- maybe the reason I can't is that I never learned German!!

Joyce Tremel said...

This morning on the radio I heard there was a huge bust in Pittsburgh--a cocaine ring that ran from Texas to Atlanta to Pittsburgh. They used Greyhound buses to transport the drugs.

Pat, I only know a couple of things in German, one of which is the song Ein Prosit. Gotta sing along when we're at the Hofbrauhaus.

Annette said...

That's what was said, Gina. I gather grand juries are a whole different beast.

Pat, Iggy responded to commands in English or...I'm thinking he said Czech. Don't hold me to that. But I do know that he's a bi-lingual dog.

Annette said...

Joyce, there was some talk about that drug bust at last night's CPA. I gather it was HUGE.

Jennie Bentley said...

Interesting info on the dogs. I DO speak German, although I doubt my fluffy 16 lbs shih-tzu mix would be very useful, even so. We had a canine team in for the Killer Nashville conference this year, too. Fascinating stuff!

Karen in Ohio said...

LOL, Bente!

In the CPA I attended our K-9 demo took place in the gym at the county jail. I guess they combined two units at once, and I was so nervous about being there that I barely remember anything they said.

In the entire building there were only two people armed with anything stronger than a Taser. Yikes.

Annette said...

Oh, Karen, be sure and check back on my next blog date (Jan. 5) when I'll share my experience touring the Allegheny County Jail. Definitely not a place I want to see again.

Gina said...

Annette -
Maybe they meant you can't be silent but you can say, "I refuse to answer on the ground that it may tend to incriminate me."