Broward County

Finding drugs is a game for PBSO dog in county jail

Faro is a 5-year old German shepherd who spends his days behind bars, sniffing out drugs. It's his job.

He joined Palm Beach County sheriff's jail deputies about two years ago as their first contraband dog, and still is the only dog patrolling the county's three jails. Another German shepherd, Hawk, was assigned to the jail about 10 years ago, but his job was to prevent escapes, Capt. David Sleeth said.

"Our primary focus [with Faro] is narcotics detection," he said, "not only for him identify contraband, but to act as a deterrent."

Faro is part of the jail's six-member Corrections Emergency Response Team — a sort of a jail SWAT team — that often is called upon to quell the most serious threats behind bars. Faro is trained to sniff out illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin or marijuana that may be sneaked into the jail.

"He makes our job easier," said Deputy Roger Kirby, Faro's handler. "He can smell things that I can't smell, [but] there are things he can't find that are serious, like weapons."

Faro so far has found about 20 cases worth of contraband, Kirby said.

Contraband dogs are used in jails and prisons around the world to find drug contraband. A dog has more than 220 million olfactory receptors in its nose, while humans have 5 million.

In recent years, police dogs have been trained to find a new form of contraband — cell phones. Faro hasn't been trained for that, since it's more a problem in prisons than in county jails, Kirby said.

In Broward County, the Sheriff's Office uses one of its road dogs for random searches but doesn't station one at the county jail.

Faro started his career on road patrol before reassignment to the jail. He's excitable and gets into a frenzy when Kirby walks him through the halls. But that energy is good, the deputy said, because finding drugs is a game for this dog with a coat as black as ink.

Faro's reward for digging up drugs is a game of tug-of-war with Kirby with a hand towel or his favorite ball.

"He's searching for the [drug] odor, which in his mind is the actual reward -- the ball or the towel," Kirby said. "It's a game that he and I are playing. He gets the ball, he's happy, and we're rewarded by getting the drugsOur only goal is for him to want to search nonstop."

The searches are random among the 3,000 inmates in Palm Beach County jails.

"People [visiting] and inmates don't know when the dog is coming around," Kirby said.

Typically at the main jail, on Gun Club Road west of West Palm Beach, a drug-toting visitor comes, sees Faro, then walks back to the car to get rid of the contraband. If Kirby sees that happen, he takes Faro for a walk around the parking lot to see if the dog's nose knows.

"We try to have him in high-profile positions," Sleeth said.

During a recent training search in a two-floor dorm in the jail, Faro followed his command to search, and sniffed his way around the tables and beds.

Faro found synthetic drugs used for training, some hidden in a bed and more stuffed in a sneaker. And he then got his reward, jumping right into his favorite game of a tug-of-war.