(By Brandon Hansen/Chewelah Independent)
Rebel a valuable tool combating Opioid Crisis here in Chewelah…
The opioid crisis is one of America’s biggest hurdles. With drug overdoses skyrocketing according to new statistics and studies, it’s a problem that everybody needs to pay attention to.
According to data compiled by the New York Times with information from the Center for Disease Control, between 59,000 to 65,000 people in the country died from a drug overdose last year. This is more than the peak number of car accident deaths in 1972, the peak number of deaths from AIDS in 1995 and the peak number of gun deaths in 1993. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of deaths among Americans under the age of 50.
An influx of drugs hasn’t gone on deaf ears in Chewelah. The city’s police department has gotten a K9 officer “Rebel” that has already made a big impact out on the streets. After extensive training by Rebel and officer Matt Miller, the K9 has made many dozens of deployments and that has led to thousands of dollars of drugs being found and seized.
“The criminals now know when I’m working and that Chewelah now has a K9,” Miller said. “We make it uncomfortable for them. If we didn’t have Rebel we wouldn’t have been able to make these cases and get these drugs off the streets.
In an update to the Chewelah City Council last month, retired Washington State Patrol Drug Enforcement Agency officer Rick Taylor told the council that the biggest issue continues to be meth, heroin and fentanyl. The addition of a drug dog and a stance against the problem, while cooperating with the Washington State Patrol is a step in the right direction, he said
“[Chewelah officers] have always provided great leads and great opportunities to help the community and also remove some of the drugs from the community,” Taylor told the council, adding Chewelah police have helped identify several individuals supplying meth and heroin from Spokane.
Drug dealers can cover a wide area, coming from Spokane and other regional places and with Chewelah’s location in Highway 395, it’s just a stop along their route.
“I do not believe Chewelah is what we call a ‘source’ location for drugs but it is definitely a destination, based on use,” Taylor told the council.
For Chief of Police Mark Burrows, having a strong law enforcement presence in town along with the mere idea of having a drug dog hopefully deters people thinking about dealing and using.
“Communities with fully-staffed and proactive police departments are safer places for people to live, work, and visit,” Burrows said. “It just makes sense that safer the community is, the greater the chance that economic development and growth will occur. The Chewelah Police Department is striving to use our resources as efficiently as possible to improve traffic safety, deter and prevent crime, and arrest suspects who use or distribute illegal narcotics.”
Drug use corresponds with increased theft and burglary as addicts, afraid of withdrawals, will do anything to get a fix. Violent crime too can be tied back to drug use on failed deals and erratic behavior.
“It goes hand in hand,” Miller said. “People are stealing money and goods, and they’re not buying groceries with that stuff. They need to make a quick buck to feed a habit. If they don’t they’ll get sick and it’s not pleasant for them.”
Miller has been busy, to say the least. The young officer had told Burrows two years ago that he would like to be a K9 officer and with support from the City Council, Mayor Dorothy Knauss and other programs that help fund K9 training and equipment, the Chewelah Police Department was able to make that a possibility.
“I can’t express enough how important it has been to have the support of Chief Burrows, the mayor and the city council,” Miller said. “Mark covered my shift when I was training for 10-17 weeks. The city has done a good job with a stance that they’re not going to put up with narcotics.”
So how does Rebel change law enforcement’s presence in Chewelah?
Rebel’s main tool – his nose – is thousands of times more sensitive than a human nose. It’s a finely tuned sniffer that can pick out the individual ingredients if smelling a pizza. The trafficking of Domino’s is not the problem in town, but rather, Rebel is used to sniff vehicles and subjects to detect any presence of drugs.
Miller can make a traffic stop and Rebel can smell drugs through the gaps in a car’s body. Drugs like meth and heroin can be small in size and somewhat easy to hide. With thousands of dollars of merchandise fitting in a small ziploc bag. With a dog, however that task of hiding that becomes extremely hard.
If Miller suspects something, he can have Rebel sniff a vehicle without entering it, then if Rebel has a positive contact, the vehicle is sealed for evidence while a search warrant is obtained.
“Again without a canine these cases we’ve established would have never been found,” Miller said. “If it’s not in plain sight it’s hard for us to detect and criminals are getting crafty where they hide things.”
Miller continues to train with officers in Spokane County and Kootenai County. The Chewelah Police are one of two K9s in Stevens County, as the Sheriff’s Department also has a K9. Spokane recently had it’s K9 retire, and the Washington State Patrol has added a K-9 to cover the Spokane area.
As is common with law enforcement agencies, Chewelah Police work with the Washington State Patrol and Stevens County Deputies for mutual coverage and assistance, so Rebel may be called out to help with their cases as well.
Along with tracking down drugs, Rebel can also search for suspects.
Miller said that Rebel is equal to 12 officers tactically clearing a building. One of the most dangerous jobs is trying to find a suspect in a building and Rebel makes up for the manpower that it would take otherwise.
Miller always gives a canine announcement before lettings Rebel search, and again, the idea of the K9 has a significant effect on people.
“People most of the time surrender because they don’t want to deal with the dog,” Burrows said.
According to studies, a K9 searching a building for a suspect can do it seven times faster than a tactical team. There’s also a 93 percent success rate as opposed to a 59 percent success rate with officers.
Rebel is faster too, and can track down suspects on the run. Rebel has been instrumental in finding suspects, including a burglar in Loon Lake and another case where he found both firearms and a suspect.
Rebel was also used in the recent shooting up in Colville where a suspect was loose for several hours.
Burrows said that if and when the budget allows, he hopes to expand to a sixth officer so Matt Miller can be a dedicated K9 officer and work a random schedule.
Currently he’s a regular patrol officer that just so happens to have Rebel. A sixth officer would allow Miller to be completely supportive of patrol officers.
“It would really help with the day-to-day operations,” Burrows said.
“Having a K9 is not always an option for many police departments and all agencies in the US are hurting for police officers.”
While a small town, Chewelah is doing what it can to combat the problem of opioids. Rebel is a good step and the Chewelah Police hope they can continue to move in the right direction.