Illinois Police Departments Threaten To Kill Their K9’s If Marijuana Is Legalized

There are approximately 275 trained narcotic K-9s in Illinois, with each costing the department thousands of dollars. Replacing the dogs would cost millions, and Chad Larner, the director of Marion County’s K-9 Training Academy, said “retraining” the dogs would be “extreme abuse” “We do not want to subject innocent citizens or motorists who travel through Illinois … to unlawful search and seizures. That is our main priority,” Larner said. “So in my professional position as a trainer, I could not 100 percent, unequivocally, tell a passenger who uses our roads that the dog will not alert to a scent that it has known its entire life for a treat.”

“At this point, they’re trained on five different odors,” explained the Normal Police Department’s assistant police chief, Steve Petrilli, a former K-9 handler. “Once they’re programmed with that, you can’t just deprogram them.” The dogs are also trained against being social in order to be effective workers, which led Larner to suggest “a number” of the K-9s would have to be euthanized in the event that marijuana is legalized.

Assistant Police Chief Steve Petrilli of the Normal Police Department said it would be impossible to teach the dogs to ignore odors they have been trained to recognize since they were young. Normal’s current K-9s, Barrett and Thor, are both dual-service dogs. “They’d still have some versatility,” but “their most common use is vehicle searches out on the street.” Buying and training the department’s most recent dog cost $20,000. Training a K-9 can take anywhere from eight to 16 weeks and cost between $3,000 to $5,000, not including the time commitment, overtime costs or advanced training. Depending on the dog’s breed, training, and purpose, the price of an animal can range anywhere from $8,000 to $16,000 each.

” The biggest thing for law enforcement is, you’re going to have to replace all of your dogs,” said Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett, whose private foundation paid $2.2 million in 2016 to support K-9 units in 33 counties across Illinois. “So to me, it’s a giant step forward for drug dealers, and it’s a giant step backward for law enforcement and the residents of the community.”

Most Legal States Have Taken A Different Approach To Euthanizing Their K-9 Officers

For states that have legalized marijuana, police have taken different approaches to the K-9 problem. Most of the dogs are dual-purpose, meaning they are trained to find drugs and to track and apprehend suspects and missing persons. Officers in parts of Washington state have either attempted to retrain their animals to ignore pot or, for new police dogs, taught them to smell all narcotics other than cannabis. In other states, some agencies have kept their pot-sniffing dogs and continued to search for large amounts of the drug not allowed under the law, although a recent legal challenge could soon change that.

Rob Madden, a sergeant for the Colorado State Patrol, said officers were already mindful not to use the agency’s seven police dogs as a crutch. Legalization cemented that training. “Our K-9 handlers have never been reliant on the K-9s,” he said, adding that officers also rely on their sense of smell, observation of suspicious activity and any visible clues to determine whether a search is needed. He also said he could not recall any K-9s with the state troopers being euthanized. In other states, agencies have kept their pot-sniffing dogs and continued to search for large amounts of the drug not allowed under the law, although a recent legal challenge could soon change that.

Not All Illinois Police Departments Would Consider Euthanizing Their K9 Officers

Dan Linn, executive director of the marijuana advocacy group Illinois NORML, called the suggestion that the dogs would be put to sleep a “red herring.” If Illinois legalizes marijuana, it would likely follow other states in allowing only a small amount for adults, he said. He argued that nothing would prevent law enforcement agencies from pursuing drug dealers and cartels that traffic large quantities of cannabis and other narcotics.“The idea that legalizing for adults to have an ounce on them will equal to all these dogs being euthanized, that seems kind of ridiculous and hyperbolic,” he said.

Buffett and Larner both said it is likely all of the dogs would have to be retired and replaced if pot were legalized. Sgt. Dan Wise, K-9 coordinator for the Decatur Police Department, agreed that it would be very difficult to teach the dogs to ignore odors that they have been trained to recognize since they were about a year old. “The ability to take that odor out of their skill set, I think, would be really tough and it would probably not be the most reliable way to go about it,” he said. Wise also said Decatur police would make sure to find a good use for the department’s four dual-purpose dogs in case of legalization. Retired dogs often live with their handlers and their families, he said, and the department would not euthanize a dog upon its retirement.“We will find other valid uses for the dog, even if marijuana were to be an odor that they would never be concerned with for the remainder of their life,” he said.

It’s hard not to wonder if the Sheriff’s private foundation that funded 2.2 million in training for police dogs in Illinois might have its own suspect agenda in swaying public opinion against legalization in Illinois. Since they have relationships with training facilities that they award contracts to train their K9’s, it a plausible scenario given the history of corruption that has tainted Illinois’s politics. Things that make you go hmmm..but for the sake of the puppies, it’s a rallying cry for both animal and cannabis advocates to let Illinois Lawmakers know rhat killing police officers and blaming it on weed, is not cool.