RCMP are leading the way in training police dogs to detect fentanyl, and this week canine teams from the United States, Mexico and Canada were at the RCMP Police Dog Service Training Centre in Innisfail to learn how.
RCMP Staff Sgt. Eric Stebenne, a senior trainer at the centre, said learning to detect fentanyl also allows dogs to locate carfentanil, which is 100 times more toxic.
“It’s different levels of concentration within the fentanyl family,” Stebenne said on Thursday.
He said RCMP dogs across Canada will now be trained to detect eight illicit drugs — heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, MDA, hash, marijuana, psilocybin, and fentanyl.
Red Deer RCMP Police Dog Services have three dogs trained in narcotic detection that have completed fentanyl training.
RCMP said the workshop was the first of its kind where law enforcement agencies from neighbouring countries gathered to learn the same scientific methods and dog training techniques in an effort to stop the spread of fentanyl.
Stebenne said training centre staff began its research into fentanyl in the fall of 2015.
“We started contacting some of our partners to find out who was conducting canine fentanyl detection and to our surprise nobody in the world was doing it at the time. We had two choices essentially. One was just to sit down and wait for somebody to develop a detection method, or really take the lead and establish a safe detection procedure. So that’s what we did.”
They teamed up with the E Division Crime Lab in British Columbia.
“They were seeing quite a bit of fentanyl coming in mainly through the mail so they did have a good level of expertise on fentanyl. We partnered up with them and established a safe handling procedure.”
To avoid toxic airborne particles of powdered fentanyl, the drug was liquefied. A simple but innovative way to reduce the risk during training, he said.
The centre received several requests for information on training after announcing in January that they had developed an efficient and safe method to train RCMP police dogs to detect the drug.
Thirty-five participants finished up a two-day workshop on Thursday. Foreign canine teams were from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; U.S. Consulate in Nogales, Mexico; Broward County Sheriff’s Office; Policía Federal de México (Mexico Federal Police); and Sonora State Police. Canadian teams included RCMP; Canada Border Services Agency; Alberta Correctional Services; Lethbridge Police Service; and Winnipeg Police Service.
They learned methods and safe practices for mixing a fentanyl liquid, training dogs with a dangerous scent, and teaching a new expected dog behaviour in the presence of fentanyl in the field.
Canada has 139 RCMP narcotic-detection dogs posted. RCMP said fentanyl detection training is on track and will be completed by mid-July.