Blaine County To Add Two K9 Units By Spring
By Hayden Seder
Eight boots on the ground will be added soon to local law enforcement efforts for sniffing out drugs across Blaine County. Specifically, that will be in the form of the four-legged, furry type of deputies—two K9 units, Blaine County Sheriff Steve Harkins confirmed this week.
Although police departments across the Wood River Valley already use a drug-sniffing dog, it marks the first time in 15 years the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office will invoke this level of canine help in curbing drug distribution and illegal substance abuse in Blaine County.
“Since I was elected sheriff in 2017, this is something we’ve been looking at funding,” said Harkins. “These dogs are very expensive and time consuming, so funding is always an issue. But we felt that, right now, with the positive direction we’re going in, it was a good time to bring on some K9 teams.”
The move was made possible in part by a $15,000 grant from the Idaho Office of Drug Policy. The money covers the purchase of one K9 unit and the training the dogs and the human deputies will need. Harkins said the second K9 unit will be purchased using drug forfeiture funds. Both dogs will be certified narcotics dogs with the hope to train them for tracking missing persons and fleeing suspects, as well. Two deputies have already been promoted to K9 handlers, Harkins said. They will leave the first week of March to train with the dogs at a K9 facility in Alabama. The program runs four to five weeks and Harkins hopes to have the K9 teams up and running by May.
“We’re really excited,” Harkins said. “They’re going to be a great asset to the Sheriff’s Office. K9s are also a great tool to interact with kids, do presentations and interact with the community.”
Police dogs have had a long history of effective use in the Wood River Valley. The Hailey Police Department has had a K9 unit for about 10 of the last 14 years. Currently, the department uses a K9 unit named Bandit, who was trained primarily for narcotics detection. Bandit has been with the department since 2012 and is handled by Officer Nathan Douthit.
“It takes a lot of training with the handler and the dog,” said Steve England, Hailey Police lieutenant. “We try to keep progressing and make sure we have the resource available that other agencies in the area can use.”
The Ketchum Police Department has no police dogs and no plans to acquire one, but since the city contracts its law enforcement with the sheriff’s office, Ketchum has the option to use the new dogs when necessary.
In 2004, the Sun Valley Police Department had a K9 team in use for nine years, until the handler took a position as a detective with Blaine County.
“We work with the Hailey Police Department’s dog and request assistance if we need a dog, the same way that when we had a police dog and no one else did, we shared that resource,” said Mike Crawford, Sun Valley chief of police.