Even in the midst of a pandemic, Central Wyoming College is finding ways to serve the community. On July 30 and 31, seven K-9 and handler teams relied on the college for their annual Controlled Substance Scent Detection certification.
This was due in no small part to the efforts of Deputy Kevin Coulter, who turned to CWC when he learned the usual Jackson venue was closed due to COVID.
“Testing at CWC was my brainstorm to try and get something together,” Coulter said.
Coulter enlisted the help of Dave Hodges, Bonnie Whitman, and Bill Gallant, three other Certifying Officials from Teton County, Yellowstone National Park and Johnson County, respectively, to help him run the certification.
CWC ended up being an ideal venue. One bomb and six narcotics dog-handler teams used three campus classrooms and four vehicles to conduct the test.
Two of each location type contained ‘finds,’ or legally classified controlled substances. Dogs were required to identify between seven and 28 grams of marijuana and cocaine. They also had the option to add Meth, Heroin, and MDMA.
As a certifying official, Coulter carries a Wyoming Pharmaceutical and a D.E.A. license that allows him to carry samples of each substance. The drugs come from the Drug Enforcement Agency in Washington, D.C. or the Wyoming crime lab and are adjudicated from expired cases.
To complete the test, the dogs were given eight minutes to search vehicles and 10 minutes to search rooms. They had to give their handlers an obvious indication that the site was positive to earn their certification.
Dogs who located three of the four finds were certified.
Coulter runs the official test once a year, though dogs who do not pass on their first attempt do not have to wait this long to retest.
“If they fail, they can call me or another official in their area who will run the test without the full-blown event,” Coulter said.
According to the certification rules, dogs can be retested within five days. However, in this case, all seven teams passed and will be used for traffic stops, search warrants, probation, parole and vehicle searches.
While each certification requires a minimum of two officials, Coulter said he works more efficiently with four.
“You can move in and out faster,” he explained. “This way, we had two people running interior searches and two on vehicles.”
Coulter first became interested in the certification process in 2000, when he received a German Sheperd named Rexi, who was trained to recognize narcotics.
After handling Rexi for the requisite six years, Coulter applied for Novice status where he worked with other certified officials and ultimately earned his certification through National Police Canine Association.
Though Coulter has had several German Shepherds and is beginning to train his two-year-old beagle mix to detect marijuana, he doesn’t foresee becoming a NPCA trainer.
“The NPCA has certifying officers, instructors, and trainers,” he said. “I am interested in being an instructor—in setting up stations with finds and helping people figure out how to improve. Training is not my interest.”
In a typical year, teams come from all over to participate in the certification hosted by Coulter. In addition to the surrounding states, Coulter said he has had participants from as far as the Los Angeles Police Department in the past.
While Coulter said they will host multiple, smaller events this year to comply with COVID restrictions, the CWC test had an impressive turnout.
“We had dogs all the way from the East side of Wyoming to the Westside,” Coulter said.
The narcotics officers came from the Torrington, Lander, and Cokeville Police Departments. There were also deputies from the Fremont, Johnson, and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Departments.
The only bomb dog was partnered with a sergeant from the Lander Police Department.
Coulter said the next certification will be in Rock Springs in September.
Moderating the test allows him to witness some of the special partnerships that result from dog-handler teams. He said the animals were well taken care of and were rewarded with toys at the end of each search.
The certification was also attended by Community Prevention Specialist Tauna Groomsmith who wanted to cheer for the local deputy/dog team whose training was funded by Fremont County Prevention.
Groomsmith said she learned of the loss of the county’s only police dog after she accepted her position. Because the agency felt a K9 force was integral to appropriate 9-1-1 responses, substance abuse prevention and overall community well-being, Groomsmith said they conversed with the county’s law enforcement agencies to develop a pitch.
“We realized there needed to be a collaboration because a K9 project would ultimately benefit everyone in the long run,” she said.
The Fremont County Prevention Program and the sheriff’s office worked to procure funding for the dog and handler training. Of the sponsored team, Groomsmith said the deputy and his dog were both wonderful.
“I’m proud they’re part of Fremont County,” she said.
The Fremont County Deputy said he realized dogs can be an asset to police work when he observed a partnership earlier in his career. Now, he maintains the training of his K9 partner.
“While searching for the hidden narcotics, my job is to watch his behavior, make sure he checks everywhere and keep him focused on the task at hand,“ the Deputy said. “We do this on a regular basis, as this skill is perishable. If we don’t train regularly, we could lose the skill.”
The deputy said he enjoyed using CWC as a certification venue because it allowed the handlers to test their dogs in new ways.
“I thought the certification was really good, and I appreciate CWC,” he said. “Hopefully we will be able to use the facility again as it would allow us to have different environments for the searches.”
Because handlers must test annually to keep their status, the college played a critical role in keeping operational bomb and narcotics dogs on the force.
“I can’t tell you how great CWC has been through all of this,” Coulter said. “All of the teams were so thankful for the college. They thought it was a wonderful place to certify.”