Springer Spaniel helps Oregon State Police find drug trafficers

Oregon state police dog

Harley is a 3-year-old springer spaniel, and is an Oregon State Police drug dog who loves his job.  Harley works with Senior Trooper Jake Ledbetter from the state police office in Winchester.  The dog came from Belfast, Ireland, and got his job mainly because of the change in marijuana laws in Oregon.  When the state legalized marijuana, Ledbetter’s black lab, Charger, who was trained to detect marijuana, among other drugs, had to be retired.  So Harley has been a part of the enforcement team for about a year now, and Ledbetter said he is spot on when it comes to detecting drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin.  It’s a job that can be pretty tough because of the effort by drug runners to disguise drugs with sophisticated packing and hiding them in hard to find places in all sizes of vehicles.  “When we’re finding these drugs, they’re wrapping them sometimes six or seven times in cellophane and vacuum sealing, and put grease and other stuff around it to try to prevent the dog from finding it,” said Ledbetter.  But Harley is extremely successful anyway, said Ledbetter.  He is a high energy dog, and when he gets focused on finding drugs, he is relentless in his pursuit.  “When you have a dog that has a high hunt drive, it’s a lot easier to train them, because you’re getting them focused on an area and once they’re imprinted on that, they want to go find it non-stop,” he said.  Since February of 2016, Harley and Trooper Ledbetter have located and confiscated 33 pounds of Methamphetamine, 2.3 pounds of Heroin, and 11.4 pounds of cocaine in 33 different incidents, according to Capt. Bill Fugate, the public information officer for the Oregon State Police.  Even though marijuana is not the focus any longer, Harley still gets plenty of chances to do his job. Ledbetter said he’ll use the dog anywhere from 50 to 70 times in a year.  The other more dangerous drugs, that the dog is trained to find, have increased in frequency in the county.  “Coke and heroin, it’s unbelievable how much of the stuff is going through this freeway,” Ledbetter said of Interstate 5.  “Heroin was unheard of five years ago, very rarely would you see it and now it’s everywhere.”  Harley has made a lot of drug finds in the past year, but there have been times that the dog will indicate a find, and they just can’t locate it.  Sometimes, it’s just too well hidden, but the dog has definitely picked up the scent and knows it’s there.  “We call it an unconfirmed alert, because we couldn’t find anything, but obviously we were looking for a reason,” Ledbetter said.  The dog is very accurate, the officer added.  In fact, about 95 percent of the time drugs are found.  A lot of times, drugs are hidden in sophisticated compartments ... in the hydraulics, under trunk latches and other hard-to-find places.  Ledbetter said the state police had to retire several dogs, although some were actually sold to other agencies that are on the lookout for large quantities of marijuana being shipped out of Oregon to other states where it is still not legal.  He said there is a lot of that activity, and a lot of officers, in eastern Oregon especially, are coming across loads of marijuana headed out of the state.  Because of the increase in the number of semis that are hauling illegal drugs, officers are now starting to focus more on the trucks and Ledbetter said it can be a big challenge.  “They have a legitimate reason for travel,” Ledbetter said, and  he added that makes it tougher to spot the trucks that might have contraband on board.  It took about four months to get Harley trained and certified, and Ledbetter continues to train him, working with him every day.   Ledbetter said the dog has been a tremendous help in finding the illegal narcotics, and he is the reason a lot of them never made it to the streets.  Ledbetter said the dog will work five to seven years before he is retired.  The two get pretty attached to each other after being together everyday.  “It’s weird, I spend more waking hours with the dog than I do my family,” he said.  “Harley’s been a real valuable addition to the force.”