Garda ‘canine detectives’ set for expanded role

DOG units, being used to sniff out drug smuggling and criminal activity, look set to be extended nationwide.

The units, operating at a cost of about €3 million yearly, are controlled by gardaí and customs officers.

Newly appointed Garda commissioner Fachtna Murphy is deciding on boosting the use of the specially trained dogs for local Garda units, following successful seizures of drugs on the streets of Limerick and Cork. Currently, gardaí and customs handlers use 39 dogs nationwide combating criminal activities.

Six dogs under gardaí are trained in drugs and firearm residue detection.

There are also 14 general purpose dogs — trained in public order duties, tracking missing persons as well as criminals and articles contaminated by human scent.

Another five dogs are trained in explosives detection.

One dog is also trained in detecting the presence of dead bodies while another is trained to specialise in blood detection.

Revenue and customs teams handle another 13 dogs, deployed at ports, airports, postal depots and freight forwarders’ premises.

All customs detector dog teams also have passive dogs that allow for the screening of passengers as well as merchandise and baggage.

To combat the illegal movement of money — the lifeblood of drug trafficking and organised crime — customs also operate a cash detection detector dog team.

Figures for last year show, the customs dog teams cost €1.4m to run while the specialised Garda units annually are estimated to cost about €1.5m.

Despite the high cost for the 39 dogs, consideration is being given to extend their use in communities on streets and in urban areas outside of Dublin.

In March last year, four specialised teams could be seen on the streets of Limerick and Cork. A pilot project was rolled out to assist local policing methods.

Gardaí in Henry Street, Limerick, have reported the canine detectives have helped detect “significant amounts of drugs”.

Both pilot projects saw special vans fitted out with kennel cages for the dogs.

The Department of Justice has confirmed “consideration is currently being given to a proposal to extend the Garda Dog Unit nationwide, on a regional basis”.

Following the pilot detection units, gardaí using the dogs have already carried out a number of operations targeting the sale and supply of drugs at places of entertainment.

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