I am currently a law student at the University of Idaho’s College of Law. I have lived in Moscow throughout my undergraduate and graduate education. I am a concerned Moscow resident that does not believe Moscow is in need of a K-9 unit to police our community.
I am not claiming there is not a need for resources for those impacted by drugs in our community, but rather that a K-9 unit will not serve to help vulnerable populations in Moscow and instead weaken our relationship with our local law enforcement.
The police department is already undergoing a significant expansion of its force with a larger station, allowing for a greater police presence in our community.
Many would argue that an increased police presence does not inherently make our community safer. Further, a drug dog will increase active policing in a community that benefits from community-based police presence and relationships, and trust in our local departments.
The drug dog, if trained to alert with marijuana, will allow the police department to further criminalize a drug that our neighboring state has legalized. While I am not advocating for people bringing marijuana over the border into Idaho, I know that it is likely to happen. Training the dog to alert to marijuana will target students, and specifically students of color. This will increase minor drug possession charges and further alienate minority populations who face implicit racial bias in society.
Additionally, drug dog searches are legal at any legal traffic stop so long as they do not prolong that stop. This means that police could pull over cars for speeding or other pretextual traffic infractions after they cross the state border and conduct a drug dog search while checking identification and insurance information.
This, again, will only serve to increase minor possession charges for marijuana and erode the student population’s relationship with our police department.
Instead, this relationship could and should be fostered by the continued use of community policing and outreach.
Greatest of all, the use of a drug dog will do nothing to combat the real issue in our community: widespread addiction to meth, heroin, etc. There are many other ways that the money being requested can be used to combat community drug use. It could be granted to organizations that work on holistic representation or healing services, that help lower income families get resources that they need, or to fund nonreligious based addiction groups.
Policing and criminalizing drug use does not heal our community. Rather, it works to tear families apart, erode trust with our local law enforcement, and spend more tax dollars on prosecution and confinement of people who we should be helping to break away from their addictions.
While some may argue that the K-9 unit will be utilized to intercept larger traffickers that are supplying our community with drugs, it is much more likely to target community members who are users. The police have other methods of finding traffickers and I believe, along with new addiction resources in our city, these methods can work as well as, if not better than, a K-9 unit.
My hope is that the Moscow City Council will consider the likely negative impacts a K-9 unit will have on our community and deny this request and instead look into other methods of healing our community.
Kierra Mai is attending the University of Idaho College of Law and is a member of the student organization, The National Lawyers Guild. She is the Moscow Director of Relations for the Idaho Law Review. This column was originally sent as a letter to members of the Moscow City Council. We’re reprinting with permission.