Law enforcement said drug use is on the rise across the state. One of the tools it uses to keep drugs off the streets? K–9 units. Tonight in our in depth report, 5 nights in the fight against drugs, news five's Anthony Pura shows us how sophisticated and precise drug dogs are in finding drugs no matter the hiding spot.
Meet Rex - he is a 7 year old German shepherd Belgian Malinois mix.
A friend to man, a foe to drug traffickers.
"It can be on cars, it could be on people, in houses, we find them in all kind of different locations, all kinds of different hiding spots. If they can think of where to hide it, we can find it," said said Travis Bheam.
Officer Travis Bheam of the Hastings PD makes sure of it. It is what he and Rex train for each week.
"You almost feel like a proud father when they find that drug or your proud of your kid. That dog worked very hard. It shows that your training and your patience and everything worked out for the best," said Beahm.
Yes, that is what it looks like: cocaine in a metal training box. After all if Rex is going to learn the scent of drugs he needs to work with the real thing.
"He is trained for coke, marijuana, meth and heroin," Beahm said.
In this parking lot Bheam hides the drugs where a drug dealer might consider storing it - under a car, inside a glove compartment.
"It is pretty much a game. We keep him interested and keep him working hard for us," said Beahm.
The hide and seek game begins now.
As you can tell, Rex does not like the camera. At this point, he is more focused on barking than smelling out drugs.
But his handler does not allow it. Bheam gets him to focus on the task at hand sniffing over, under and around each car. Man and man's best friend helping each other out.
It does not take Rex long to find the drugs hidden under this car. Now that he has won the game immediately he gets his prize - a stuffed animal to chew on.
"It is like a paycheck - just like how a lot of us don't want to work without pay - my dog needs praise. He needs his toys and that makes his job worth while," said Beahm.
Now for the drugs in the glove compartment. Rex seems to know where it is, but he is not telling his partner.
A little direction is needed, but there is no hiding from his nose.
"Underseats, it will be hidden in body work, it can be in gas tanks and that has no effect on it. They will be able to track it and find it," said Beahm.
Officer Bheam said he has found drugs just about anywhere including public bathrooms. So we are going to take this training box and hide it inside this bathroom dispenser and let's put Rex to the test.
There is no fooling him. As soon as he is taken inside the bathroom he tells his handler there are drugs hidden in the stall.
It is no wonder Rex and Bheam have been used many times by the Tri–cities Drug Task Force.
Jeff Pelowski was on the task force for 8 years. He said they do not have of their own, they rely on the dogs of local police.
"If we are in Hastings, we would utilize maybe a Hastings dog. We have the state patrol dogs at our disposal to call in. In grand island we have the Grand Island police dept dog to call," said Pelowski.
And though they are not the primary weapon in the fight against drugs they are used often in many situations.
"If we need a vehicle search or a vehicle sniff or a house search we use the dogs if we are looking for a fugitive," said Pelowski.
Today training is over. Rex found the drugs, he earned his chew toy.
"Rex did good for the most part, but we would like him to be more focused, more quiet," said Beahm.
In all fairness, to Rex he is not used to training with a camera.
In a real life scenario it will just be the hidden drugs versus Rex's nose. And though there is no guarantee he will find every drug, every time it seems like the odds are in his favor.
The Hastings Police department has two K–9 units. They are also used as attack dogs.
Officer Travis Bheam and Rex have been sniffing out drugs for nearly 3 years.