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LYNN – Drug dealers use air fresheners, clothes dryer sheets, even coffee grounds to mask the smell of narcotics hidden in their vehicles but the ploys rarely foil Mackie and Sjors.
The two specially-trained drug sniffing dogs work for the Essex Sheriffs Department under the supervision of Sgt. Richard Riley and his boss, Capt. Shane Ehlers.
The trio also works closely with the Lynn police who typically call on Mackie or Sjors after they pull over a driver for a motor vehicle violation and suspect drugs may be inside the vehicle. Lynn police worked with Riley and the dogs for 30 days in the summer of 2006 and made 74 mostly drug-related arrests. Drug dealers fear the canine cops enough to transport drugs in their mouths rather than hide them in their vehicles.
“We get Richie there in two minutes. Mackie would do an outside search. If he was alerted to drugs, we’d have probable cause to do a search,” said Lynn Lt. Daniel Fee.
The dogs are trained to sniff an array of narcotics including heroin, cocaine, Oxycontin as well as marijuana and ecstasy.
“The dog can do what he does because his sense of smell is a thousand times sharper than ours. There’s a lot of places to hide something in a car but he can pinpoint a ‘hide’ and get us in the general area,” Fee said.
The Lynn police kept their own canines 25 years ago but Acting Chief Kevin Coppinger said the cost of purchasing and training police dogs means it makes sense to work with Sheriff Frank Cousins’ canine team.
“Resource-wise it’s great for us and gives us more bang for the buck,” Coppinger said.
An untrained or “green” dog costs $5,000 to $7,500 even before the animal goes through 14 weeks of basic training and another five weeks of drug detection training. Mackie, a Labrador, and Sjors, a Dutch-named Belgian Malinois, train daily with Riley to keep their noses in tip-top shape.
The pair live with Riley in a kennel separated from his home. Make no mistake, these are not your average curl-up-on-the-couch and fetch-the-paper dogs.
“They are tools that have to be kept sharp. We do constant, constant maintenance,” Riley said.
Training standards and other aspects of the dogs’ police work are documented so the Sheriff’s Department and police have records to submit at drug dealers’ trials.
In addition to working with State Police and local probation officers to fight crime, the Lynn police rely on Riley, Mackie and Sjors to help out when police respond to incidents like the unruly crowd that congregated outside a Washington Street bar a week ago.
Gang members unlucky enough to meet Mackie and Sjors on the street also encounter Ehlers and his team in the Essex House of Correction in Middleton.
“It’s kind of like 360 degrees coverage in terms of reminding them we’re out there,” Coppinger said.