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Sniff and tell: Oklahoma takes a canine approach to contraband cellphone detection.

Most corrections officials agree on the number-one issue currently facing prisons: the use of cellphones by the inmate population. Inmates can utilize cellphones to coordinate contraband drops, track correctional officers and K-9 team's movements, intimidate inmate victims and witnesses, and conduct other illicit activities. As the problem grows, correctional agencies must develop new ways to deal with the threat. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC), and other correctional agencies across the country, have instituted one new method: the cellphone detection canine. Cellphones emit several distinct odors that one can train a canine to detect. Some departments start their canines on niobium oxide or lithium niobiate, while others, such as ODOC, use full cellphones with the batteries removed. While trainers and program managers will debate for hours on which training methods and odors are best to use, they will all agree that the most important element in training a successful cellphone detection canine is the selection process.

About two years ago, ODOC directed its K-9 unit to develop a cellphone detection canine capability. Concurrently, they tasked the unit to develop a new and more effective way to shake down the many prisons throughout the state. Riley, a stray, came by donation to the department from a local rescue organization. Richard Price, the department's canine program manager, and Lt. Eric Enblom, regional kennel master, considered over 500 canines before selecting Riley. They began with the intent of training Riley to detect cellphones and to bypass electronic devices that inmates could possess, such as MP3 players, alarm clocks and radios.

Riley quickly mastered the art of cellphone detection in a controlled training environment. Once deployed and acclimatized to a real-life correctional environment, Riley settled in and started recovering contraband cellphones during the unit's targeted search missions. During these missions, the unit determined that Riley not only had the ability to detect cellphones; he also detected cellphone chargers, SIM cards, tablets and Wi-Fi hotspots. On May 25, 2016, Riley and his handler became the first canine team in the nation to certify in cellphone detection through the National Police Canine Association. During his certification, officials said Riley hit on 100 percent of the cellphones that were hidden. He even found a cellphone that officials did not know was there.

Removing contraband

Riley is one of the many tools that the department's K-9 unit employs to assist the facilities around the state in an effort to reduce contraband. While Riley is deployed upon request to individual correctional centers, ODOC most often uses him during its targeted search initiative, dubbed "Strike Force." The mission focuses on removing dangerous contraband (cellphones, drugs, weapons, etc.) from a targeted housing unit within a specific prison. The K-9 unit plans the missions and coordinates directly with wardens to provide additional manpower for each search. The search team links up at an off-site location and gets briefed on the mission parameters.

Once on-site, the officers quickly secure the targeted unit and stop inmate movement. The inmates are processed out of the unit, through cell sense towers and deep-tissue scanners, and secured in another location, such as the visitation room or gym. Once they process the inmates out of the unit, the team conducts canine sweeps and hand searches of each of the inmate's property. These searches intend to remove as much dangerous contraband as possible from the targeted unit in a short amount of time; the team remains on-site no more than three hours. Although final figures were not available at the time of this writing, the combination of the new technologies and targeted search initiative has already produced 226 cellphones, 522 cellphone chargers, 74 weapons, three Wi-Fi hotspots and 8.62 ounces of narcotics.

By Carl Bear

Carl Bear is warden at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, Oklahoma.
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Title Annotation:VIEW FROM THE LINE
Author:Bear, Carl
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Jan 1, 2018
Words:630
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