Keen eyes, and well-trained noses, capture drug criminals

Learn how a specialized group of cops, and their
canines, locate and arrest dope-dealing
crooks in our community …

Portland Police Bureau Drug & Vice Division Officer Scott Groshrong, and K-9 Nikko, get ready to show how they sniff out the drug peddlers.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
As cool and collected as drug runners and dope peddlers try to appear, in an effort to evade detection, specialized officers of Portland Police Bureau Drug & Vice Division (DVD) are trained to sniff them out – literally.

At a recent community meeting, DVD Officers Chris Devlin and Scott Groshong were on hand to talk about their work, and to demonstrate how effectively their drug-detecting dogs can locate illicit and illegal substances.

PPB drug-sniffing K-9 Nikko relaxes, before he’s put through his paces.

His nose, knows
First up, Officer Groshong introduces his partner, a Belgian Malinois named Nikko. “We were certified as a team in June, 2008 – so we’ve been working together for a while now.”

Although the dog will live to be 11 or 12 years old, Groshong said, Nikko’s active service life will be about six years. “The dog cost about $8,000, but so far, he’s helped us find about $250,000 worth of drugs.”

Unlike other police dogs, Nikko’s duty isn’t to find and apprehend people, explained Groshong. “He’s great at finding drugs – finding hidden compartments in cars. We sometimes work at the train and bus stations; we’ve also helped with package interdiction [finding drugs that are being shipped] with the U.S. Post Office and United Parcel Service.”

So sensitive is Nikko’s sense of smell, the dog’s handler noted, “In training, a drug sample was hidden in a vehicle several cars away. The wind shifted and he immediately picked up on it. He worked the scent back to the source.”

As East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs watches, Nikko sniffs and scratches at a closed door, indicating he’s found something that smells like narcotics is on the other side.

Moving the drug sample to the flagpole base on a table doesn’t fool Nikko; he’s immediately got the scent.

Groshong said that while he didn’t have actual sample narcotics, Nikko picked up the scent from an adhesive label used to mark an evidence bag that once DID contain drugs.

During two demonstrations, Nikko sniffed the air, walked over to the hiding place and scratched at it, indicating that he smelled dope. “He’s trained to smell marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs.”

Says drugs lead to other crimes
DVD Officer Chris Devlin read their the mission of their unit: “To investigate drug and vice crime, thereby reducing crime and the fear of crime, improving the quality of life in Portland’s neighborhoods, and improving the relationship between the community and police.”

He added that investigating illegal drug activity is important beyond the drugs and dealers they apprehend. “There is a strong correlation between drug abuse and other crime, including burglary, car prowls, and theft of all kinds, including identity theft,” Devlin said.

PPB DVD Officer Chris Devlin shows samples of drugs and associated paraphernalia.

Although they still train to deal with methamphetamine laboratories, “Meth lab activity is way down. We still do find old, inactive meth labs.”

About marijuana-growing operations, Devlin said that today’s lack of the zero-down home loans has reduced the number of outer East Portland homes being turned into indoor pot farms. “Executing a search warrant on a marijuana grow is still dangerous. Some growers set up deadly booby traps. If people live there, they usually keep guns on them or by their beds, because they get ripped off frequently. They live a dangerous life, and are dangerous to their neighbors.”

Fighting drugs, far and wide
Although TV shows and movies have glamorized undercover work, Devlin said it’s simply too dangerous for the benefit it provides. “Our best [drug] cases come from citizen information. We tend to use confidential informants who, for a variety of reasons, give us valuable information.”

Devlin noted that DVD team members also work with the Portland Interdiction Taskforce. “The goal of PIT is to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking in the tri-county area, whether it be at the airport, bus or train stations, guest lodging at hotels and motel – even on and freeways.”

Officer Devlin answers questions about the drug trade in East Portland.

Cops “follow the money” up the distribution chain
A neighbor asked why, although a lot of money changes hands in the illicit drug trade, many “dealers” tend to live in squalor.

“There is a lot of money involved,” Devlin concurred. “The money travels ‘up the chain’ of dealers, to distributors and importers. People at the top of the chain tend to live the ‘high life’.”

As an example, Devlin told of the case of a Reed College student who sold drugs from a modest apartment near the school. “We followed the money back to his distributor – that guy lived in Portland’s West Hills in a very nice place.”

Illegal drugs in the community, far from constituting “victimless crime”, in fact spawn a multitude of other crimes, touching almost everyone.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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