Moscow City Council members appear to agree its police department needs a drug-sniffing dog, but whether the four-legged friend should detect marijuana is where the councilors differ.
The Moscow Police Department is asking the city to include as much as $10,650 in the fiscal 2020 budget, which starts Oct. 1 of this year, for a drug dog that will aid in traffic stops, emphasis patrols and education outreach.
Moscow Police Chief James Fry told the council, mayor and city staff Monday during a council budget workshop he wants the dog to be able to sniff marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl. If he could choose a fifth drug the dog could sniff out, he said, it would be cocaine. No matter how many drug scents the dog could detect, the cost would be the same.
Councilor Anne Zabala said marijuana is a “clear outlier” when linked with heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl.
“When we’re talking about community perception of the police department, which I think is very high, I don’t think this contributes necessarily to community policing in a way that I feel good about,” Zabala said. “And I just don’t think that there’s enough justification when looking at all of the drugs that the dog could be sensitive to how (marijuana) fits into the same category.”
Fry said marijuana is a gateway drug and contains much more THC than it once did.
“I’m not going to sit up here and condone marijuana when it’s illegal and I think that I have to take that stand,” Fry said. “I will take that stand. I’ll take that stand on anything. Idaho law says it’s a violation of the law, and I’m not going to step around that. I don’t think you hired me to step around that.”
Councilor Brandy Sullivan said she is most concerned that what some may perceive as minor marijuana possession will be criminalized in a way it never has before, which could damage the relationship between residents and the police department.
Fry said the dog will simply be an additional tool to assist officers. He said officers frequently respond to marijuana calls and they have the discretion to cite, arrest or remove the drug from an individual in possession. Those three options will not change with the addition of the dog.
“We’re dabblers in this area when it comes to law,” Councilor Art Bettge said. “I would prefer just to let the police, who are the professionals and the experts at this, dictate what the dog is sensitized to.”
Councilor Gina Taruscio said she was extremely uncomfortable speaking about which drugs the dog should be able to detect because she is not an expert in the matter.
“I would almost rather not fund the dog than get in the position of a council dictating to our police chief what flavors the dog can smell,” Taruscio said. “I think that’s wrong. (The chief) is the expert.”
Sullivan said the council could gather more information, as well as input from residents but decide to delay funding for the dog until fiscal 2021.
Bettge said funding should not be postponed because the Moscow drug problem needs to be addressed now.
Councilor Jim Boland said he is in favor of appropriating money for the dog into the coming budget but that the police department not utilize those funds until it receives further direction from the council.
A public hearing on the fiscal 2020 budget, including the drug dog appropriation, is Aug. 5.
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.