Drug sniffing K-9 roles changing due to MI marijuana law

Battle Creek Police K-9 Officer Nico waits patiently for his handler to give him a toy. (Matt Miller/Newschannel 3)

Law enforcement departments statewide are looking at how to adjust the roles of their K-9 officers after marijuana was legalized in Michigan

Battle Creek Police have four K-9 officers and 4-year-old Nico, who has been with the department since May, has a different set of training to accommodate the new law.

"He came out of the Netherlands," Cpl. Andrew Winer, Nico's handler, said. "He's a Belgian Malinois."

Nico is what's called a duel purpose canine. He represents what the department said is a direction many of Michigan's law enforcement agencies are heading.

"One half is the patrol side - anything with human odor, search buildings, track people," Winer said. "The other half is detecting narcotics."

Nico can detect several drugs.

"Cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin and meth," Winer said.

Nico cannot detect marijuana. He hasn't been trained to react to the smell of the drug, now deemed legal for recreational use in Michigan.

Nico is Battle Creek's first non-marijuana detecting drug dog.

"That seems to be the going trend is to not put them on the odor," Winer said.

Battle Creek Police Chief Jim Blocker said departments statewide are having to take a serious look at how they train and use their K-9s thanks to the new law.

"We have dogs that are trained across the full spectrum of narcotics as well as tracking capability ... and so because of that we really don't see a significant need to adjust the program in any way right now," Blocker said. "There may be some changes, but do I think that there's going to be a shift or a reduction in K-9s? I absolutely don't think so. We're going to re-prioritize how we train dogs and how we use them."

There are no plans to send any of the department's four K-9s into early retirement, which has happened in other states where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use.

Blocker said each K-9 officer is a huge investment, costing thousands to obtain and thousands more to train.

"We want to try to get a good five to six years out of each dog, each investment," Blocker said. "They become a part of our family and a part of who we are, and because of that we want to make sure we're doing it the right way."

In his mind, just because recreational marijuana use is legal doesn't mean there is no longer any need for marijuana sniffing police dogs.

"I think there's always going to be the need because it's not carte blanche freedom. There are still restricted spaces for marijuana, restricted public spaces," Blocker said.

GALLERY: Nico, the 4-year-old K-9 officer with Battle Creek Police Department

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