By CHANSE WATSON
WALLACE — The Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office went roughly 13 years without the use of a K9. During those years, law enforcement agencies in the Silver Valley have had to rely on outside help (or simply go without) when the skills of a K9 were needed.
Now, they have two.
Officially certified in May, SCSO Cpl. Darius Dustin and his new partner, a black Labrador named Midnight, are now patrolling the streets of Shoshone County.
The unapologetically vocal Midnight was trained by Pacific Coast K9 in Custer, Wash., as a drug detection K9. It was there that he learned how to detect marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and all of its derivatives.
Police K9s usually start their training around 1 year old and could be at it for a significant amount of time, depending on the type of training.
Cpl. Dustin explained that he was first approached about the idea of being a K9 handler roughly four or five years ago. While the offer did pique his interest, nothing materialized due partly to him already having a dog (not a police dog).
Law enforcement K9s are not left at the office or a kennel, rather they spend almost all their time with their handler and family — which makes the decision to get one a significant one.
Not long after SCSO Deputy Ben Abshire got his drug detection K9, Lulu, in May 2018, Sheriff Mike Gunderson was already planning ahead for a second.
Due to a significant private donation, the Sheriff’s Office was able to do this at no cost to the county. The donation not only covered the cost to get a new dog, but it also paid for the deputy’s training and helped with the cost of a new patrol vehicle.
With the funds secured, Dustin was once again approached with the possibility of becoming a handler. Having recently put down their dog, Dustin and his wife talked it over and decided that they could do it.
Three weeks later, he was on his way to Custer for training in March.
Before arriving, Dustin expected much of course to be in a standard classroom setting with little work with the dogs (at first) — this was not the case though.
“I figured there would be a lot more book work and learning the science behind the ‘why’ and ‘what,’ but it’s all hands on,” he said. “Day one, we were basically shown how the dogs are handled. Then within a few hours, they said ‘here you go, here’s dogs. Start doing it.”
During his six weeks of training, Dustin worked with three dogs during his training and ended up initially choosing a Chocolate Labrador named Badger.
Once the duo had completed training and returned to Shoshone County though, Badger decided that he’d rather do other things than sniff out drugs.
“Excellent dog,” Dustin said of Badger. “We found that he enjoyed searching at Pacific Coast and with everyone there. When we brought him here though, he wanted to be a pet. He just didn’t want to work.”
Dustin ended up sending Badger back for retraining and was then given Midnight.
The instructor at Pacific Coast believed that he worked better with Midnight than Badger, but overall demeanor was what drove Dustin to choose Badger first.
“The big turnoff for me with Midnight was he was a constant barker and he was over the top hyper,” he said.
This was evident in the early days of the two being together, as Midnight would cause quite a stir when put into a crate.
Now in a new Suburban with more room, Midnight has come around to his new surroundings and calmed down (a little).
While the duo have only been on the job for just over two months, they’ve wanted no time in making a difference.
Dustin and Midnight played a key role in an Idaho State Police emphasis on June 21 that netted several drug related arrests.
SCSO Undersheriff Holly Lindsey stated that Midnight was responsible for locating an amount of marijuana and three amounts of methamphetamine — all on separate traffic stops.
“Deputy Dustin was instrumental in our operation,” said an ISP spokesperson. “He was the key to our success that day.”
For the Silver Valley, the addition of second drug detection K9 could be an edge in the fight against drug related offenses (which are consistently ranked in the top five most reported offenses in the county).
In a previous interview, Sheriff Gunderson, a former K9 handler himself, explained that the overall goal with the K9s was to have one available around the clock.
The usefulness of K9s to law enforcement agencies is well-documented. From drug and bomb detection to apprehension and search and rescue, dogs have been an incredibly useful tool for emergency crews of all types — especially here in Shoshone County.
Even off the street and after the bad guy has been arrested, K9s continue to aid in the conviction of suspects.
In a previous interview with the News-Press, Shoshone County Prosecuting Attorney Keisha Oxendine explained that having a K9 involved in a case she is prosecuting is a game changer.
“In every case I can think of where a K9 has alerted, we’ve gotten a conviction,” Oxendine said. “Whether it be by them pleading guilty or them being convicted at trial.”
Oxendine added that from a legal standpoint, a K9’s credibility allows both her and law enforcement to do things that could not be done without them.
“The big benefit on our end is that if a trained K9 for law enforcement gets an alert on a vehicle, there is a well established case law that says a certified K9 alerting on a vehicle is probable cause to search the vehicle.”
In court, the K9’s handler testifies on behalf of it and will defend its nose if brought into question. Defense attorneys can question a K9’s credibility during a trial, but Oxendine said that it is rare and the dog almost always proves it is capable.
With round-the-clock K9 coverage (or close to it) now a reality, Dustin is excited to be able to provide this tool to the county.
“It’s a huge asset to the office. I can’t think of any other word to describe it except ‘invaluable.’”
In addition to the dog, training and vehicle being covered through donation — veterinarian care and food for both dogs is also being donated to the Sheriff’s Office.