There will soon be a new, four-legged staff member of the Leesburg Police Department.
An anonymous donor reached out to the department in June with a offer to make a $15,000 donation to cover the cost of purchasing a new police dog as well as the associated handler training. They did so after learning of the new challenges for canines trained in the scent of marijuana through a news article, said Major Vanessa Grigsby, the department’s deputy chief.
As of July 1, it is legal for Virginians 21 and older to grow, possess or consume marijuana. With many other states also legalizing marijuana, it has caused the early retirements of dozens of K-9 dogs trained across the country. In Virginia alone, the Associated Press reported, at least 15 drug-sniffing dogs were placed into early retirement, as they are trained to alert to the scent of cannabis.
A town staff report noted the newly purchased drug detection dog would be specifically trained to detect the felony drugs—cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and ecstasy. The new pooch will also fill the void created by the department’s recently retired explosives dog, K-9 Sally. He or she will join a K-9 team that includes Loki, a Malinois/shepherd mix, and Brody, a German Shepherd, who are both trained in tracking and drug detection. They are assigned to Master Police Officer Justin Wilt and Officer Patrick Kidd, respectively.
According to Grigsby, new K-9 dogs are typically purchased from privately owned and operated police service dog importing and training facilities. The dogs are typically German shepherd, Belgian Malinois or Dutch shepherd breeds. They are imported from Europe and are selected, vetted, and undergo veterinary exams prior to selection. The importer and training facilities will usually have several dogs in inventory and will work with the police department’s handler to best match the dog/handler combination to ensure success.
Following the purchase of a K-9 dog, both the dog and selected handler participate in an extensive period of training. Typical training time for patrol duties, which includes apprehension and tracking, is eight to 16 weeks, depending on the training school that is selected. Detection training will sometimes be incorporated into the initial training period, but can also occur following the completion of patrol duties training and adding additional training time. Both privately owned police service dog vendors and local law enforcement agencies offer training for K-9 teams.
Grigsby added that the timeframe for bringing a new K-9 into the fold depend on several factors, including the availability and purchase time of dogs, and the availability and selection of training. The new legislation means that several Virginia agencies are looking for new dogs and training availability, creating its own supply chain issue. The department also conducts its own in-house, competitive selection process for which officer is selected as the new K-9 handler, she added.