Trooper shares information about local drug dog

Trooper shares information about local drug dog Ringo, the drug dog, and his human, Trooper Nick Vlasman, visited the Vermillion Lions Club meeting on Thursday evening, Feb. 3, at the VFW Club where Ringo showed off his skills as a drug detective.

Prior to Ringo's demonstration, Vlasman gave the group an overview of his work with Ringo as well as the use of drug dogs in this area and elsewhere in the state.

Vlasman, of the South Dakota Highway Patrol, informed the group that the state of South Dakota has 11 working dogs, 10 of which are "sniffers" (dogs who are trained to sniff out illegal substances) and one multi-purpose dog which is trained to both sniff out drugs and to apprehend criminals.

The breeds of the dogs are black labs, yellow labs, Dutch shepherds and Belgian malinois. Ringo, who is trained as a sniffer, is a malinois. He is trained to respond aggressively to marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and meth and all of its derivatives.

From March 15, 1999 to Jan. 31, Vlasman and Ringo have been involved in 169 drug-related arrests, compared to 125 arrests from March 15, 1998 to March 15, 1999. Their primary territory is along I-29 between Sioux City, IA, and Sioux Falls, and the state highways which intersect the interstate. Vlasman said there is virtually a meth epidemic along I-29 from Omaha, NE, north to Sioux Falls.

Vlasman said that he must have probable cause to stop a vehicle. If, when he stops a vehicle, he further suspects drugs after speaking to the driver, he will get Ringo out of the patrol car and have him sniff the seams of the car and the trunk. If the dog becomes excited and scratches at the vehicle, the trooper can search the inside of the vehicle and/or trunk to determine if there are drugs present.

Since Ringo is trained to respond to the odor of the drugs and not to a package, he can detect the presence of residual odors (for example smoke from marijuana) for up to a week after the drugs have been removed. However, Vlasman must actually find the drugs or determine that the driver is driving impaired to make an arrest.

Vlasman said he and Ringo are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He tries to work on Ringo's training at least four hours every week. The dog was originally trained in Gretna, NE, by a nationally known trainer. Vlasman and the dog return to Gretna once a year for a week-long re-certification program.

Part of the dog's training is to train him to be unresponsive to things a dog would normally react to, such as hamburger, dog food, French fries, and dog hair. He is fed seven to eight cups of dog food a day and is not allowed to have table scraps or any other "treats" that would "corrupt" his training. His rewards for locating drugs are praise and play.

Ringo and Vlasman have given programs in many school districts and they are asked into many schools to do locker and/or parking lot checks. The administration of the school must make a request through Vlasman's lieutenant in Sioux Falls and the administration and the local law enforcement agency are usually present during the check. If drugs are actually found, Vlasman's authority in the school is to handcuff the student involved and remove him/her from the premises. It is then up to the local agency and school authorities to do the legal follow-up with the student and parents.

Ringo, who is a high energy, enthusiastic dog, demonstrated his skills by sniffing four suitcases which contained cigarettes, hot dogs, fast food and marijuana, and correctly identifying the suitcase which contained the marijuana. Since this was a demonstration rather than a drug arrest, Vlasman allowed Ringo to keep the suitcase to play with and while the trooper carried the other three suitcases from the clubroom, Ringo trotted out carrying his suitcase by the handle.

The evening's business meeting included a report by President Julie Potter on the state convention in Sioux Falls the previous weekend, an annoucement of the plans for the club's 50th anniversary party on March 30, and the recruiting of members to walk in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life in the DakotaDome on Feb. 26 and to answer phones for the spring festival for South Dakota Public Television on March 11.

The next meeting will be on Thursday, Feb. 17, at 6 p.m. at the VFW Clubroom. The program will focus on assistance dogs which are trained as seizure dogs or as assistants to the physically challenged.

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