Sniffing out trouble

Published 11:11 pm Saturday, March 14, 2009

Convicted felons must agree to a series of conditions when they are placed on probation: no drug or alcohol use, for instance, and no consorting with other convicted felons.

These felons are subject to random home visits by their probation officers just to make sure they are abiding by the rules.

These days, Lawrence County’s probation officers are getting help from an extra pair of eyes — and a particularly keen nose — in their home inspections: a Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit Hemi and his handler/deputy Charlie Hammonds.

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Lawrence County Adult Probation Agency Chief Officer Carl Bowen said the program, known as SCENT (Special Canine Enhanced Narcotics Team) began Feb. 20 and is showing success.

The first day of Hemi’s new duties, probation officers made four arrests.

In one instance, a person on probation was found to be in violation of his conditions and two people with outstanding warrants were at this person’s home as well, so all three were rounded up and taken to jail.

“We got two people in one house we would never have caught without this program,” Bowen said.

The benefits are numerous. Home inspections can be made more quickly when a dog is used.

“A dog can search a home in minutes versus an officer in an hour,” Bowen said.

Also, drugs hidden from human view can be found more often and more quickly, too.

“It’s amazing to see what this dog, and other K-9 unit dogs can do,” Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless said. “They can sniff out things human would never know is there.”

Dogs can ferret out people who might be hiding in the house but shouldn’t be there. In short, Bowen said the use of a trained K-9 unit makes people on probation more accountable.

Bowen said he was appreciative of the sheriff’s office for allowing the probation agency the use of Hammonds and Hemi.

He is also appreciative for the support his idea got from Lawrence County’s two Common Pleas Judges. The adult probation agency is part of common pleas court.

“I know community controlled sanctions may not sound like much punishment to the general public but it is the last opportunity a person has to avoid being sent to the state penitentiary,” Judge Charles Cooper said. “For that reason the court wants to know they are scrupulously abiding by the terms of the community controlled sanctions or we will impose a penitentiary sentence.”

Judge D. Scott Bowling agreed.

“When an individual pleas guilty to a felony and agreed to abide by certain terms of community controlled sanctions. With the dog, our officers ability to monitor that person, to drug test that person and go to the individual’s home and do curfew checks are greatly expanded,” Bowling said.

Lawless said he is happy to share Hemi and Hammonds with the APA and noted that this is one example of how law enforcement and judicial agencies can and do work together for the benefit of the community.

“I just wish we had a bigger staff and more resources to help,” Lawless said.

Bowen said Lawrence County’s Adult Probation Agency may well be the first or one of the first in Ohio to use the SCENT program.

“We want the community and those on probation to know we take community controlled sanctions very seriously,” Bowen said.

“If you violate your conditions we will catch you, especially if it’s drug-related.”