Exeter police chief certifies drug dog

Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Bailey, a 3-year-old black labrador retriever, is the new narcotics dog with the Exeter Police Department. Morgan Struble, Exeter police chief, certified her Nov. 16. Jason Johnston reporter@cassville-democrat.com

Bailey sniffs for narcotics in cooperation with local agencies

Area law enforcement can now utilize Bailey, a 3-year-old black labrador retriever, to search for drugs.

"She is strictly a narcotics dog," said Morgan Struble, Exeter police chief and Bailey's owner. "She doesn't track people. She doesn't bite. She doesn't search buildings for bad guys. She is trained on marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine (amphetamine) and heroin and their derivatives."

Struble had Bailey certified on Nov. 16 in Paris, Tenn., through his friend, Sgt. Ricky Wade, a K-9 handler for the Henry County, Tenn., Sheriff's Department and a certifying official with National Narcotic Detector Dog Association, Struble said.

"During the K-9 certification, it's not just the dog being graded, the official grades the handler just as much," he said. "When we certify, we certify as a team. We're only certified when we are together."

For about two months, Struble trained Bailey to locate drugs by using a tennis ball.

"To train a drug dog, you manipulate the dog's drive into doing the desired behavior," he said.

Labs have a prey drive, Struble said. A prey drive in a dog is when it chases after a moving object, such as a ball, a frisbee, a stick or another animal. He started the dog's training by throwing a tennis ball in tall grass where Bailey had to locate the ball by sniffing for it. In the training process, he made each tennis ball smell like drugs after sticking it an airtight container with drugs for several weeks.

"Then I started playing games with the ball after it smells like the drugs," he said. "Then she learns, 'Oh, my ball now smells like cocaine or my ball smells like meth.'"

He also taught Bailey how to respond.

"If she smells the odor of drugs, she is going to sit, and she is going to stare at that vehicle (or object)," Struble said.

In training, Bailey learned that not every vehicle has a drug odor.

"Sometimes, we had five vehicles lined up in an auto yard, and we searched three or four vehicles before she finally got to one that had the odor," Struble said.

When he is on duty and conducting traffic stops or traffic enforcement, she rides with with him.

Struble does not need a driver's permission for Bailey to sniff the outside of a vehicle. If she indicates that the vehicle has drugs, then he has probable cause to search the vehicle.

He is also a part-time police officer with the Seligman Police Department, which has budgeted 20 hours for Struble's position. He also takes Bailey with him while patrolling Seligman.

In 2015, Struble will become an unpaid reserved officer after the Seligman department finds his replacement, said Police Chief Terry Burgess. Struble will still bring Bailey to Seligman as needed.

Struble, 26, has trained police dogs since he was 16. By the time he was 18, he had his own kennel of 22 dogs in western Kentucky, until he was about 21.

He then entered the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center in Grand Island, Neb. That police academy lasted 14 weeks. He started off as a deputy with the Antelope County, Neb., Sheriff's Department. He was there for eight months.

He then became an officer with the Creighton, Neb., Police Department, where Struble said he trained and actually used his first dog as a law enforcement officer. The dog was a chocolate lab named Floyd. He and Floyd then transferred to Valley, Neb., west of Omaha.

"I made a pretty big meth bust with Floyd in Valley," he said. "I ended up taking it to the federal level."

After he donated Floyd to an agency in Fremont, Neb., he trained a German shepherd named Aaron.

"He was a work horse," Struble said. "He was a machine. He did awesome in his job, but when I went home at night, I had to put him up in a kennel because he'd eat a hole in a wall. He couldn't just relax or hang out."

He had Aaron for about six months, he said. The German shepherd is working for an agency in Tennessee.

He even trained a drug dog who was 70 percent blind in both eyes, said Struble, who donated the dog to Alexander County, Ill., Sheriff's Office.

"That dog went on to seize vehicles," he said.

Struble left law enforcement and was in construction for almost two years before becoming a Reeds Spring reserve officer and working part time for the town's street and water departments in November 2013.

In July, Struble became the Exeter police chief. He currently has four dogs, including Bailey.

Bailey originally came from Fargo, N.D., Struble said. She was a house pet before Paul Samuelson, a northern Iowa police chief and owner of North Iowa K-9, got Bailey to train her for an agency near him. About six months ago, Struble traded a three-year old Dutch shepherd with Samuelson in exchange for Bailey.

The transaction did not cost any money, said Struble, who did all of Bailey's police training.

"She kind of stood out for me because she was so balanced," he said. "She can go to work and find drugs, then go home and be a couch potato."

If any surrounding agencies require Bailey's services, they can contact Struble at 417-835-2823.

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