Ready to sniff out drugs

STEUBENVILLE – The newest piece of equipment used by the Jefferson County Drug Task Force in its battle with drug traffickers actually has four legs.

And it turns out the funding for it came from the drug dealers themselves.

Drug task force Detective Jason Hanlin said the drug task force recently purchased a drug detection dog, a K-9 equipped vehicle and paid for training for a new K-9 officer with funds that were seized from drug traffickers and ultimately forfeited to the task force after their convictions.

“The entire program was funded with money seized from drug-related arrests and convictions in Jefferson County. As a result, no taxpayer funds of any type were necessary,” Hanlin said.

Gunner, an 18-month-old Belgian Malinois from the Netherlands, is the newest addition to the task force, and drug task force Detective Chris Vinci has been assigned as the new K-9 officer. Hanlin said Vinci and Gunner will conduct narcotic-related traffic stops and building searches and also will be available to assist law enforcement with tracking and searching for suspects.

“Gunner is exactly what we needed. He has the drive to do the job with the ability to still be friendly and interact with the public. He is able to perform services in a wide variety of situations from vehicle checks, search warrants and school inspections. I cannot think of a more efficient way to spend seized drug money in Jefferson County,” said Hanlin. “With a task force officer as the handler, all of the departments in the county will have immediate access. We will offer our services to school systems in the county to inspect lockers and vehicles.”

Vinci completed the month-long handler training course at Gold Shield Canine Training in Columbus, an experienced trainer often used by the Ohio State Highway Patrol to train its K-9s and handlers.

Vinci said now that he and Gunner have been trained to work together, he is excited to be able to offer their combined skills to assist local law enforcement.

“Having a K-9 available to alert to the odor of narcotics during traffic stops will prove to be a great help to officers,” Vinci said. “Drug offenders frequently change transportation methods and create elaborate compartments in their vehicles to conceal narcotics. Having Gunner alert to the presence of these drugs will make the searches and seizures more productive. All departments should have a K-9, or at least have easy access to one when they need one. That’s what Gunner and I can provide.”

Vinci extended his gratitude to TEAM Automotive in Wintersville for assistance with a 2013 Chevy Tahoe purchased and equipped to transport Gunner. Vinci also thanked Pat Lamantia, a Toronto resident who works for the Purina Co., who made arrangements for his company to provide food and dog biscuits free of charge.