Farmington’s K-9 officer now on duty

FARMINGTON — The training is over and Farmington Police Department’s drug-detecting K-9 is on the job.

Police officer Michael Lyman and Axel, a nearly 1-year-old German shepherd, graduated Sept. 1 from an eight-week training course at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro.

Lyman and Axel Tuesday demonstrated the dog’s ability to find about one-fifth of a gram of heroin for the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday.

Axel is trained to detect heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and crack, Police Chief Jack Peck said.

The K-9 sat and stared at the box containing the drug while ignoring a box with marijuana in it, Lyman said. 

Axel is rewarded with food for his effort.

Axel started last week with a couple of random traffic stops. He also searched two vehicles and found a straw with drug residue in one at a drug overdose Saturday night in New Sharon, Lyman said.

He is trained to find the drugs on people, in buildings or vehicles.

Lyman and his wife, Krista, purchased the dog and agreed to pay for expenses such as housing, food and veterinarian bills.

The town assumes ownership of the dog until Axel retires and ownership returns to Lyman.

Expected costs include $700 for training and $100 to equip a vehicle to accommodate the K-9. Liability insurance is expected to cost about $1,000 a year and will be covered by drug forfeiture monies, Peck said previously.

Selectmen approved reinstating a K-9 program for the department in March based on a proposal to help deal with an increase of drug activity in the area.

As Maine faces a heroin epidemic, Farmington is feeling the impact, Lyman previously said.

While county and state police have drug-detecting K-9s, most are trained to detect marijuana. The dog cannot differentiate between drugs. Now that marijuana is legal, police cannot tell if the dog is detecting pot or an illegal substance in a vehicle. Dogs are now trained to detect drugs but not marijuana.

A 2015 Supreme Court case, Rodriguez v. United States, also limits the amount of time a drug-detecting dog can respond to a traffic stop. The dog needs to be near and able to arrive on the scene by the time a ticket or warning is issued, Lyman said. The officer cannot extend the time of the stop or waste time until a dog can arrive, he said.

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