Booker the drug dog still has a job, at least for the moment.
Going against a recommendation from Ketchikan Police Chief Alan Bengaard, the Ketchikan City Council on Thursday directed management to maintain the drug dog program.
Several people spoke during public comment in favor of keeping the dog active on the local police force. Hannah Ramiskey said that while the department figures out a way to continue using Booker for enforcement, the dog can be taken into schools to encourage children to stay off drugs.
“If the compromise is that the dog becomes a part of an officer-friendly kind of situation, where so many hours a week or a month is in schools, as a deterrent, talking to kids,” she said. “There are a lot of positive things going on, and there are a lot of kids in this town who need support.”
The problem from the police chief’s perspective is that Booker is trained to sniff out four drugs. One of those drugs is marijuana, which is now legal. Booker can’t communicate which drug he’s detected, and Bengaard explained that police have been told Alaska judges will not issue search warrants based on a drug dog’s reaction unless police can show that the dog did not react to marijuana.
Ramiskey, though, said that other municipalities in Alaska are not getting rid of their pot-sniffing drug dogs yet. They’re looking at options, she said, and she’d like Ketchikan to do that, as well.
During Council discussion of the issue, Council Member Bob Sivertsen said he’s on the fence, and he doesn’t want to make a hasty decision.
“I want to make an informed decision that benefits the community and our children,” he said. “I understand that it’s a great tool in that manner. I guess I want a little bit more of a cost breakdown on the operation as it may change, if there’s something else we can do, if we can use it three times a week. I don’t know. But I’m willing to look at all those things moving forward.”
Council Member Dick Coose said the dog should be used in locations where marijuana is not allowed, such as the ferries and the airport. Bengaard said a state judge still would not issue a search warrant, although a federal judge might.
On a related topic, Council Member KJ Harris, who is a member of the ad hoc Marijuana Advisory Committee, told the Council that in the near future, he’s going to take a poll of Council members to see if a majority wants to move forward with allowing commercial marijuana operations in the community.
Harris said it’ll be easier on committee members if the answer is no.
“There are innumerable laws that need to be rewritten, innumerable resolutions – there’s all kinds of things that we haven’t even thought about yet,” he said. “But why should we go to the meeting if we’re not going to say yes? So I want you to start thinking about it, talking to your constituents, talking to each other. Don’t be afraid; it’s OK.”
The Council also talked a little about a tobacco excise tax. The Borough Assembly recently rejected a motion to move forward with an areawide tax. Council Member Judy Zenge asked that a city excise tax on tobacco be placed on the next meeting agenda.
The next regular Ketchikan City Council meeting is May 7.