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K-9’s big drug find all in a day’s work

Messenger Publisher

To Rocky, finding four ounces of crack and powder cocaine hidden in a vehicle last week was all in a day’s work.

But to 12th Judicial Circuit Drug Task Force, it was much more.

"The task force commander came up to me afterwards and said ‘your dog just made this case,’" said Corporal Stephen Dukes of the Troy Police Department. "That makes you feel good; that’s what you’re trained for."

A seven-year veteran of the police department, Dukes has been a member of the K-9 unit for more than two years. As Rocky’s handler, he is assigned to care for; train; and work the 6-and-a-half-year-old Belgian Malinois.

So when he and Rocky were called to assist with a search warrant on June 27, Dukes knew his dog was ready for the challenge.

"He’s an awesome dog," Dukes said. "My dog has a real strong drive; he’s going to stay there until he finds it."

Officers searched the South Brundidge Street apartment and seized a pistol; $12,000 in cash; and drug paraphernalia from the apartment, but no narcotics. So they called Dukes and Rocky, who searched the apartment as well.

They found no narcotics. "So they asked us to search the vehicles," Dukes said. He gave Rocky a 15-minute break in the air-conditioned police Bronco because "you need to give your dog every advantage that you can," and then Dukes took Rocky out to the vehicles.

As they walked around a silver sedan Rocky "alerted" to the trunk area. Inside, officers found the four ounces of cocaine, with an estimated street value of as much as $10,000.

The find, and the other seizures, led to the arrest of Alexx May, 27, of Crenshaw County, on charges of trafficking in cocaine. Officials have described the arrest as "significant" and a key step in ongoing efforts to stop the sale and use of illegal drugs in Troy and Pike County.

That’s a mission shared by Dukes and Rocky.

"We’ve been pretty successful with it," Dukes admits modestly. "I’m lucky. Rocky, he’s an awesome dog. When I first started, I didn’t know much about what I needed to be doing

they were trying to get me to catch up with him.

"Now

he makes me look good."

Rocky is trained to detect narcotics by the odor they leave behind. "I’ve seen him detect odor 15 to 20 feet away on a find and drag you over to it," Dukes said.

When the dog detects and odor, his body posture changes; his breathing becomes faster and shallower; and he works to find the source of that odor ­ in other words, the narcotics.

When he finds the source of that odor, he "alerts" by sitting down. "He does what’s called a passive alert," Dukes said. "Dogs can alert either passively or aggressively, where they scratch and bite at the source."

The passive alert system protects the evidence, Dukes said.

"He actually gets trained a lot more than he gets used," Dukes said. "We train three of four times a week

the reason we do that is to expose him to the odor."

He compares the training to that of a professional athlete. "If you don’t practice, you’re not going to be the best you can be."

Often, the pair are called to search vehicles; residences; even schools, from high schools to assisting with random searches at Troy State University.

"And yesterday, we searched a residence at the request of the owner, who had rented it previously," Dukes said.

But it’s the search and seizures on major narcotics cases, such as the May case, that give the pair the greatest satisfaction. "As far as the amount (of cocaine), that probably wasn’t our largest find," Dukes said. "But as far as it being in connection with finding the money and the dope, yea, it was big."

And, yes, "it’s what we train for."