Drug-sniffing K-9s get police badges, praise

NEW HAVEN — One of the Police Department's newest members sniffed out $65,000 worth of heroin in his first 10 days on the job. He got lunch for his trouble.

On Monday, the department's two new narcotics dogs received their department badges in a short ceremony at police headquarters and high praise from their boss.

Over the last 10 days, the golden Labrador retrievers, Orvis and Nia, helped in searches at four locations, he said, including the one in the 1200 block of State Street where the heroin was found hidden in ductwork under a bed.

Chief James Lewis said at the very least Orvis made short work of a task that would have taken his human counterparts much longer to do and "may have found something that we may have never found."

Orvis, who is partnered with Detective Ted Forbes, also helped police seize nearly $17,000 in suspected drug money. The police already had it, but it wasn't clear if it there was sufficient evidence to seize it under asset forfeiture, which requires authorities to show the money was proceeds of illicit activity. According to Forbes, the solution that allowed the seizure was a "money line-up," for the lack of a better description.

The money, along with a .40-caliber handgun, was seized over the weekend in a case with an unusual back story. Patrol officers were approached by a 28-year-old man.

"He said he was having some family issues and needed to go to jail," said Sgt. Rob Criscuolo, a supervisor with the Tactical Narcotics Unit. He even tried to get into the back of the police car, Criscuolo said.

The officers heard him out. They patted him down as a precaution and found the gun and cash, he said.

Later, Forbes took three piles of money, two from the police station and one seized from the man, for Orvis to sniff. The dog hit on the $17,000, meaning there were residual drug traces present. Forbes shuffled the piles in a different order twice more, to be sure, and Orvis hit on the same one each time.

Orvis and Nia, who works with Detective Jodi Novella, graduated from the State Police K-9 Academy last month. The two dogs were driven up to the academy in Meriden each day by their handlers and spent five weeks in training with the academy staff and six more in tandem with their partners, Novella said.

The dogs are trained to sniff out eight scents: crack, heroin, methamphetamine, steroids, marijuana, hash and Ecstasy.

In addition to the badges, the department also received a $5,000 check from a neighborhood group that raised money for the animals' training and care.

The "SoHu" Block Watch collected the money in a series of fundraisers, the most recent one a calendar showcasing pets in the East Rock neighborhood.

Shawnee, a German short-haired pointer, was another guest of honor at the ceremony. With the "cover dogs" for each month left to a $1-per-vote contest, the pup alone brought in $416, according to Lisa Siedlarz, the SoHu activists who organized the events.

Lewis had attended a Block Watch meeting some months ago and mentioned, in passing, that he hoped to get narcotics dogs back, which sparked a neighborhood conversation, she said.

"It's not often that they are thanked for what they do, and this was a small way to say thank you and to show that we support the use of K-9s," Siedlarz said.

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