Jun. 18—SWINOMISH INDIAN TRIBAL COMMUNITY — The Swinomish Police Department has added a new officer to its ranks — one with four legs, a tail and a nose primed to detect drugs.
Viking, an 18-month-old Belgian Malinois, joined the department this week, providing what Swinomish Police Chief Earl Cowan hopes will be a tool to better protect the community — especially when it comes to the increasing amount of drugs coming onto tribal land.
"We decided it was another tool we needed to address the drug problem," he said. "We're hoping this will serve as a deterrent to the dealers. They will know 'Hey, there's a dog out there.'"
Viking, who came to Skagit County from California, is trained to detect illicit drugs, Cowan said. If during an investigation Viking signals the presence of drugs, police have the necessary probable cause to investigate further, he said.
It is not the first time the department has had a police dog, Cowan said. However, its last one, which was trained to detect marijuana, was retired when marijuana was legalized in the state, Cowan said.
Viking will be the county's fourth police dog.
Like Viking, the Anacortes Police Department's T-Bone is trained to detect illicit drugs.
The Skagit County Sheriff's Office and Mount Vernon Police Department each have a dog — Espo and Vektor, respectively — that are trained to detect illicit drugs as well as to track and apprehend.
The State Patrol also has police dogs, both for drug and bomb detection, that work in Skagit County, said State Patrol trooper Rocky Oliphant.
While law enforcement agencies are often willing to share their K-9 units, it can be difficult finding one that is available, Cowan said.
"We always struggle to find a K-9 that's working or a K-9 that's on call," he said. "That's another reason the tribe opted to make the purchase."
Viking and his partner, officer Tyler Sheets, will train alongside the rest of the county's K-9 units, Cowan said. When Sheets and Viking are available, they will be able to assist other Skagit County law enforcement agencies, he said.
Before they can hit the streets, however, Viking and Sheets will need several months of training and bonding, Cowan said.
"The period of bonding is pretty critical," he said.
After that, the pair will be ready to make public appearances, which will help the department bond with its community, Cowan said.
In addition to Viking, the department has acquired two electric bikes, which will allow it to create a bicycle unit, Cowan said.
"It's another tool we can use to be more visible, more present," he said. "Cops on bikes are more approachable than cops in cars."