FLEMINGTON, NJ – The likely legalization of recreational marijuana is having unintended consequences for police, especially agencies that use K-9s to detect illegal drugs.
And it’s an issue for Jax, the K-9 assigned to Patrol Officer Greg Zytko. Legal marijuana means that police won’t be able to use dogs like Jax for drug interdiction, because he’s been trained to “hit” on marijuana.
The problem was a frequent topic at the recent state Council of Mayors conference in Trenton, Mayor Betsy Driver told Borough Council here last night.
For example, if a vehicle contains both marijuana and heroin and a drug dog is used in the search, “Any good attorney will say the dog hit on the cannabis, so therefore you have to dismiss the heroin” charge, Driver said.
Driver said she’s challenged the state Attorney General's Office, telling officials there, “Hey, you’re making our drug dog obsolete here, guys. What are you going to do about it?”
Fortunately for Jax, his multiple skills mean he won’t be rendered obsolete. Police Chief Jerry Rotella said he can still be used for tracking, article recovery, and as a patrol dog who can bite on command.
“His value is still there,” Rotella said. “The only thing missing is the narcotics.”
And Jax is good at detecting drugs, Rotella said. Last year, he had about 200 interdictions, Rotella said, and many of them were “intertwined,” where there was the presence of both marijuana and another illegal drug.
Those searches also resulted in the seizure of five guns last year, he said, and another two so far this year.
Another consequence of those searches are forfeitures, about $9,000 worth last year, according to the Chief. Much of what is seized is cash, he said, with one stop alone netting about $6,000.
Not all of the forfeitures are retained by the borough. Some of it is shared with the county Prosecutor’s Office, and some with any other agency that might have been involved in the arrest.
“Everybody gets a little cut,” Rotella said, but he thinks there will be enough – combined with donations – to pay for Kita.
Kita is everything that Jax is not, and the Chief said Zytko is “very interested in taking on another dog.”
Jax is a Dutch Shepherd, “an aggressive looking dog,” Rotella said. He doesn’t want to call Jax “high-strung” but said, “he’s a very energetic and active dog ... 90 pounds. He’s full of muscle, and full of energy.”
Kita is a black Labrador, “a very passive dog” who is now in training outside of Philadelphia, Rotella said. While “Jax is an alpha dog,” Kita is more like a pet; the two have met and seem to get along fine.
Kita would be “just like a dog you have in the house,” he said. “She just has a very special skill.”
And that skill will let her detect the drugs other than marijuana: Oxycodone, heroin, fentanyl, common pills, cocaine, meth.
While the donations will cover the $8,000 cost, Rotella said Flemington’s Barkley’s Gourmet Marketplace will pick up the cost of food. Kita’s veterinary care has also been donated, the Chief said, and because she’s a passive dog and won’t be in a confrontational situation, she won’t need other equipment, such as a bullet proof vest.
“The only thing she’ll need is a leash,” Rotella said.
While last night’s discussion was the first on acquiring Kita and a vote on the decision wasn’t on the agenda, Council seemed inclined to pursue Kita. Rotella said that as the K-9 drug interdiction problem becomes more widely understood, the price for dogs like Kita will only increase.