Oklahoma DOC has new emphasis on K-9 training

Oklahoma DOC has new emphasis on K-9 training
K-9 Officer David Mealer with Sonja, a narcotics dog at Jess Dunn Correctional Center.
K-9 Officer David Mealer with Sonja, a narcotics dog at Jess Dunn Correctional Center.

Information from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla._The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has a new emphasis on training methods for K-9 search teams, and it has led to a more comprehensive unit dedicated to controlling contraband at statewide facilities.

Over the last year, the DOC has restructured their strategy to include: expanding the use of canines in searches of housing units, visitor areas, work zones for offenders who are part of a work crew, re-training requirements and establishing the K-9 unit as an independent entity within the DOC.

Although K-9 search units within the DOC have been used for over a decade, they were limited to housing units with no required re-training.

Robert Patton, DOC director, said the new strategy is a progressive approach to better utilize the K-9 units, control contraband and make for safer working environments.

"We are going to continue to develop this program to its full potential," Patton said. "I am proud the program has produced such significant results so far. It is a testament to the training staff and those who continue to implement it. Thinking outside the box and taking proactive – cost efficient approaches helps make our facilities safer places for our employees and offenders."

Prior to the department restructuring the program, records of contraband were added to facility files and not kept independently.

As part of establishing the K-9 unit as an independent entity, comprehensive records of contraband have been taken. According to a report, from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, dogs in 13 state facilities have found:

  • 3,136.71 grams of marijuana
  • 247.63 grams of methamphetamine
  • 210.91 pounds of tobacco
  • 249 cell phones
  • 224 cell phone chargers
  • 31 homemade knives (shanks)
  • 538 other items considered contraband

Special Assistant Lance Hetmer, who is in charge of the K-9 training operations, said the program's success will continue to be a game changer in terms of finding contraband smuggled into facilities. Additionally, it comes at a time when offenders in facilities across the world are coming up with more creative ways to obtain contraband.

"Offenders consistently find resourceful ways to get contraband into facilities and it makes it next to impossible for officers or other employees to catch everything," Hetmer said. "I heard of one recent case in a Brazilian prison where offenders were using a trained mouse to smuggle drugs into the facility. Having a well-trained dog searching cells and recreation areas on a regular basis should also act as a strong deterrent."

There are currently 15 dogs in 13 facilities across the state, with five in training. The DOC's goal is to have at least one trained dog in every facility in the state.

"It's a very cost efficient way to cut down on contraband at facilities," said K-9 program manager Richard Price. "The dogs live and train at the facility. With the new priority on the program there is more time involved with training the dogs, but the end benefits are safer facilities for staff and offenders."

The most recent K-9 contraband seizure recovered a cell phone, three lighters, tobacco, marijuana and other restricted items at the Jess Dunn Correctional Center in Taft. The K-9 responsible for the find was Sonja, a Belgian Malinois, who was recently trained at the Lexington facility.