Thursday, July 15, 2004

Four-legged recruit not drug dealers' best friend

By Jane Prendergast
Enquirer staff writer

Caesar and his partner, Cincinnati Police Spc. John Mendoza, have worked 60 drug cases since Caesar started on the job in May. Before that, Cincinnati had not had its own drug-sniffing dog for more than a decade.
Photos by GARY LANDERS/The Enquirer
Caesar, here with Mendoza at the police firing range in Evendale, soon will be joined by a second dog that specializes in narcotics.
There was something about the freezer in a Clifton Heights kitchen.

Caesar stopped, snapped his head to one side and started to pace. The German shepherd wagged his tail. His ears stood straight up, pointed forward. He jumped up on the freezer, scratching.

Inside: 100 pounds of marijuana.

Cincinnati police say that find and others would have been impossible without the department's new dog trained to smell drugs.

On the streets since May, Caesar is the first drug dog in more than a decade in a city where top police commanders consistently say drugs are the biggest factor driving violent crime.

Capt. Paul Humphries, who supervises the officers who handle the drug dogs, said he decided about a year ago, although drug dogs had been available on loan from other police agencies, to pitch the idea that the city should have its own.

Humphries said he didn't know why the city force went for years without its own drug dogs.

Lt. Art Frey, commander of the Street Corner drug unit, said "We've had huge successes," with Caesar. "He's made some tremendous hits.''

Caesar and handler Spc. John Mendoza trained for two months.

The dog knows the smells of powder cocaine, pot, methamphetamine and heroin. Mendoza said he can find other drugs, too, such as crack cocaine and Ecstasy, because they're derivatives.

Caesar and another drug dog, still in training, come at a time when the department's canine program - the nine other dogs that look for suspects and items such as guns - remains under watch by the U.S. Department of Justice. Administrators were surprised three years ago when the federal agency, after the April 2001 riots, became interested in the dogs. They had not been the subject of lawsuits or highlighted by activists for significant number of complaints.

Handlers like to point out that the department placed first in the country last year at the U.S. Police Canine Association's national competition. Now, they post on the side of their cars: "First in the Nation.''

The most recent report from federal monitor Saul Green, released July 1, did not point out any errors in the canine deployments that investigators reviewed, nor in canine training.

Another drug dog, a retriever, is still in training with Officer Mike Brogan. The dogs cost about $4,300 each. They're trained here by Dave Kennedy, a long-time Cincinnati dog handler and certified trainer.

Caesar, 19 months old, usually is called only after other officers have decided there's a reason to suspect drugs might be involved.

To follow U.S. Supreme Court guidelines, officers cannot search something if Caesar only indicates some interest. He has to do more than that - wag his tail, bark, scratch, bite.

In the freezer case last month, Deron Carter, 39, was arrested and charged with drug possession, trafficking, illegal possession of a gun and felonious assault. In another case, Caesar found cocaine under the fender of a car.

"I'm looking at this car and I'm thinking, 'What does he smell?' I couldn't find anything,'' Mendoza said. "Then, I reached up under there and there's the coke.' "


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