TYNDALL — When he joins the force later this year, the newest member of the Bon Homme County sheriff’s department will put his best foot — or paw — forward.
This week, the Bon Homme County Commission voted 4-1 to implement a drug dog program for the county of about 7,000 residents. With the move, Bon Homme County becomes one of the state’s few rural counties with a drug dog, often called a K9 unit.
The City of Yankton has two drug dogs in its police department.
Bon Homme County Sheriff Mark Maggs met with county commissioners for the second time this month, seeking the K9 for his department. Deputy Sheriff Brian McGuire, who would serve as the dog’s handler, also attended the meeting and answered questions.
Maggs told the Press & Dakotan that the need for a K9 has existed for some time.
"It’s something that I campaigned for (when I ran for sheriff) and something that I saw we needed when I was a deputy," he said. "I was willing to take on (the dog handling) myself, if need be. But we had a conversation between Brian and me, and he expressed that he would be willing to undertake this."
McGuire reassured the County Commission that he was willing to take on the additional responsibility and remain for the long haul.
"I don’t plan to go anywhere (else for work)," he said. "I’m committed to this."
Maggs pointed to this year’s sharp rise in methamphetamine arrests.
"We had eight meth arrests in all of 2018. We’re only five months into 2019, and we already have 14 meth arrests," he said. "We’ve surpassed all of last year, and we have more than half of this year to go."
The rising arrest numbers don’t necessarily mean drug usage and trafficking have gone up, Maggs said. The numbers may reflect more of an emphasis on busting narcotics, he added.
"It’s just focusing a lot more of our patrol efforts on drug interdiction than we have before," he said. "We’ve concentrated our efforts to clean up the drugs and get them out of here."
Meth accounts for about 70 percent of the county’s drug arrests but isn’t the only problem, the sheriff said. He views marijuana as a gateway drug, noting he has often seen marijuana users moving on to meth or cocaine.
Maggs pointed to Bon Homme County’s locale as part of the reason for the rising drug numbers.
"I think we’re in an exceptional location," he said. "You have Yankton County to the east and Charles Mix County to the west. Both of those counties are known for a high concentration of drugs, especially methamphetamine, and we’re sandwiched between them. We’re not immune to it here."
Bon Homme County contains local drug cases, but the sheriff’s department often encounters users or dealers passing through the county on one of the major highways, he said.
"We want to work on getting a reputation for being a hard county on drugs. I think we can if we have the dog on the highway and working the streets," he said. "A lot of times, people who are very active on the drug scene are ‘floaters’ to begin with, going from one county to the next."
In terms of stopping drug traffic, Bon Homme County has forged a partnership with area counties and the South Dakota Highway Patrol, Maggs said.
"It helps that we have a really good relationship with the new highway patrolman out of Wagner. He is coming over and working with drug interdiction," the sheriff said. "We also have a really good relationship with the patrolman out of Yankton. He has drug recognition experience (DRE), and he’s moving to Bon Homme County."
The team effort extends to the private sector. LeAnn Kniffen of the Tyndall Bargain Shoppe donated $8,000 to purchase the dog. The Tyndall Veterinary Clinic has offered to take care of the dog’s veterinary needs, and Homestead Feed & Supply in Springfield has agreed to supply the dog food for the life of the canine.
Other parties have indicated a desire to donate funds and to provide other support for the K9 effort, Maggs said.
"It goes to the level of community support we have," he said. "You have the Bargain Shoppe and these two businesses. But we also had a story in the weekly newspapers, and I put it on my Facebook page. The vast majority of comments out there were in support."
However, the comments weren’t unanimously in favor of the dog. The county formerly had a drug dog, and some residents are opposed to a return of the K9 unit.
"Some people in Bon Homme County were against it, and they reached out to me," Maggs said. "One of the biggest responses was the concern about the court-appointed attorney fees (with more drug cases). Others feel that the war on drugs is a failure and it’s just not important to continue."
The dog’s arrival around mid-August will require one change, the sheriff said. "We’ll need to buy a new cage system for the back seat of our car," he said.
Tuesday’s motion allowing the drug dog found commissioners Bruce Voigt, Russ Jelsma, Mary Jo Bauder and John Hauck voting in favor of it and Duane Bachman opposed to the action.
The commissioners’ vote came after extensive questioning and discussion. They had met with Maggs at their June 4 meeting and asked him to return for their July 2 meeting, allowing them time to gather public input.
However, Maggs said this week he felt the need to return sooner, given recent developments.
"The Bargain Shoppe called me and wanted to make an $8,000 donation for the K9," the sheriff said. "But I wanted to get everybody’s blessing before I took the check for $8,000."
Hauck emphasized he wasn’t opposed to the idea of a K9 unit.
"I have absolutely no issues with this drug dog. We need to do whatever we can to stop this drug thing, but we need the courts to understand we can’t afford all this (additional legal expenses), and somebody has got to pay it besides us," he said. "I think (a K9 unit) is a darn good deal, but I think the court system has got to do something to take the burden off us."
In addition, Hauck vented his frustration with an area county treating drug offenses lightly compared to overweight trucks that amass large fines.
"Where’s the justification for what’s going on out there?" he asked.
Bachman indicated his concern about the added demands of a K9 unit, especially for the handler.
"I guess my concern is if it’s going to tie up a guy 24/7. At the time you get into this, you think, ‘I can do this.’ But a year down the road and you’re saying, ‘What am I doing?’" Bachman said. "It’s just going to burn a guy out. You don’t think it will, and then you start getting 3 a.m. calls. It just seems, to me, like a lot of responsibility."
Bauder said she started receiving calls and visits immediately, with everybody expressing support for the drug dog. However, one caller raised a different concern about the appearance of a K9 unit.
"She said it seems like using the drug dog is too much like the military. That was her concern," Bauder said.
Voigt said he didn’t receive any local opposition. However, he read issues that were raised in a text message from a person — whose name wasn’t disclosed — from outside the county but who had been a K9 handler for years.
In his text message, the sender said the K9 duties took considerable time away from the road or out of the office. The messenger said he averaged 3-4 hours a week in training along with the time spent whenever searching a vehicle with the K9.
The message also raised questions about certification, transportation and responsibility for the dog should the handler leave the job.
The sender questioned the need or effectiveness of the previous drug dog. "I don’t believe it was very useful," he said.
In conclusion, the texter said he wasn’t opposed to a K9 unit.
"It’s great if it was properly trained, and I would support it if I was local," he said. "But you need more questions answered. You don’t know if people truly understand the work involved (with a drug dog)."
During Tuesday’s meeting, Maggs and McGuire answered a number of commissioners’ questions.
A K9 is trained as a one-handler dog and can’t be used by multiple people, Maggs said. In that regard, the sheriff said he intended to head off unlimited usage that would place strain on McGuire and the dog.
McGuire already works long hours as a salaried official, and he won’t be expected to remain on-call for 24/7 duty, Maggs said.
"We’re going to have to set some parameters on it, so every time (a local police department) stops a car for the smell of marijuana, they can’t call Brian when he’s off work and it’s 4 (o’clock) in the morning," the sheriff said.
On the other hand, McGuire could be more readily available during his shift, where probable cause exists during a stop and/or for an arranged activity like a search warrant.
In addition, the Supreme Court has ruled a vehicle cannot be detained for an extended period of time in order to bring a drug dog to the scene.
McGuire said, as handler, he will focus on K9 responsibilities but will remain available for other duties. Maggs told the Press & Dakotan he doesn’t plan to add to the current staff.
Maggs and Deputy Sheriff Rich Sutera will take on additional duties during McGuire’s absence for training and other K9 responsibilities, the sheriff said.
Bon Homme County will receive the dog in mid-August from Pam Rogers of Alabama, who provides K9s for the South Dakota Highway Patrol and has an excellent reputation, Maggs told the Press & Dakotan.
"We asked Sergeant John Lord (of the Highway Patrol) if they could pick out a dog for us," the sheriff said. "We’re getting a Belgian Malinois, which is a typical dog for this line of work."
A K9 holds a life expectancy of 8-10 years and lives with the handler as part of the family. However, the dog is considered Bon Homme County property.
McGuire and the dog are scheduled to start six weeks of learning at a Sioux Falls training camp starting Aug. 26. Because the dog will serve strictly as a drug interdiction dog, the monthly training runs 16 hours a month rather than the 32 hours monthly for a canine that also works as a search dog.
Maggs already has plans for making the K9 very visible to the public.
"We plan to take the dog to area schools and other places, like town hall meetings," he said. "We want to keep the public informed so they know, when the K9 shows up, what he does."
Maggs wants county residents to see the K9 unit as an investment.
"There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll see an increase in the jail budget and an increase in court-appointed attorney fees," he said. "But at the same time, what price do you place on keeping the county safe?"
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