A new addition to the McPherson County Sheriff's Office staff began working the streets in September — K-9 Meeka. The dog and her handler, Dep. Jeff Schmidt, have already had success in locating illegal drugs.
"In her first two weeks on the street, she found black tar heroin," Schmidt said.
Meeka, a German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix weighing 70 pounds, was born in Holland and is trained to follow commands in Dutch.
"If you see the dog out and about, she is sweet, but don't try to approach her," Schmidt said.
Meeka is the first K-9 Schmidt has handled and he noted she does not act like a typical house pet.
"She's very intensely focused," Schmidt said. "It's not like a normal dog."
Certified in the detection of many illegal drugs and in tracking, Schmidt and Meeka train for 16 hours each month to keep her skills sharp.
"I want to do everything we can to suppress drug use," Schmidt said. "I think we have a drug problem in this county."
As the only K-9 in the county, Meeka and Schmidt are on call 24 hours a day.
"We work a lot with other agencies," Schmidt said. "...They love having a dog in the county."
Schmidt and Meeka can be dispatched to sniff any vehicle in McPherson County stopped by a member of law enforcement .
"I basically just stand back and hold (the leash) and she'll work the car," Schmidt said. "...Her alerting to one of those trained narcotics smells will give us probable cause to search the car."
The pair also check on vehicles parked in public places such as motels, gas stations and grocery stores.
"If you pull into the Walmart parking lot and go inside the store, your vehicle can be smelled by the dog, because you're parking somewhere that I have access to," Schmidt said. "...If the public can pull up in there, then so can I — and she can be out, smelling."
Schmidt and Meeka also conduct random checks of classrooms at schools.
"Even if you smoke weed in your car, that gets on your backpack and she'll alert to it," Schmidt said.
Meeka will also be used in interdiction efforts, especially on the highway.
"If you're using your car to move large amounts of drugs, you may be subject to seizure," Schmidt said. "...If you're using your vehicle for criminal stuff, you might not have it much longer."
According to Schmidt, it took nearly $15,000 to purchase and train Meeka — a sum that was covered by an anonymous donor.
"It didn't cost the county a dime," Schmidt said.
McPherson County Sheriff Jerry Montagne had been actively pushing for the acquisition of a K-9, Schmidt noted.
"I definitely wanted to have a K-9 to cut down on drug traffic," Montagne said. "Sometime in the future, I would like to possibly see the K-9 program grow (and) expand."
"If you know we have this tool, I think it makes the bad guys rethink where they're taking their drugs and it makes the public feel a little bit safer," Schmidt said. "...We know we're not going to end drug use, but we're trying to keep it out of the public (areas). That would be our goal — to keep drug use and drug dealing out of the public and try to suppress it as much as possible."