No drugs for sniffer dogs stymies detection at airport

Drug detection dogs in Guyana have been unable to detect illegal substances on persons or in suitcases at the airport mainly because police authorities refuse to provide the drugs for the dogs to sample, which according to experts is crucial to their performance.

The issue came to light recently when former police constable and dog handler Maurice Smith revealed in an affidavit that Crime Chief Seelall Persaud has in the past refused to give the Canine Division of the Guyana Police Force cocaine for the dogs to sample, saying that its members will either “sniff it or sell it.”

Stabroek News has been unable to make contact with Persaud since he is out of the country but there has been no denial from the police force since Smith’s statement  – contained in an affidavit he filed in the High Court in support of his quest to have trafficking conspiracy charges against him dismissed – was published in this newspaper more than a week ago.

“The spending of millions on training is potentially wasted if the sniffer dogs are ill-trained or not given the usual sample to stay on top of their game,” Alliance For Change (AFC) leader Raphael Trotman said in an interview with this newspaper.

Trotman said while he “actually understands the hesitation” of the Crime Chief to provide samples to the department it exposes the “lack of confidence and high level of distrust that exists between members of his own unit.”

The attorney underscored the fact that more needs to be done to weed out the undesirables from the GPF and to build a team that exemplifies esprit de corps in every respect.

However, Trotman said the larger issue that is exposed is the “total lack of integration and coordination” of the anti-drug units of CANU and the police force.

“It should be standard operating procedure how the resources including how dogs are handled and prepared.”

He added that resources should be “jointly shared, operated and managed.”

According to Trotman issues, such as the one with dog handler, may seem minor but they expose the overall failure of the “infamous” Drug Strategy Master Plan.

He is of the opinion that the UK funded Security Sector Action Plan, which was scrapped last year following a fall-out between the Governments of Guyana and the UK, would have “taken care of these perennial issues but the government deliberately threw it away.”

The AFC head said that to date “ad hockery” continued to define the country’s approach to crime-fighting and drug interdiction and suppression.

“The government is bereft of ideas and compromised and thus unable to build, motivate and sustain credible and professional crime-fighting units,” Trotman said.

Smith, who was one of the persons charged in Guyana with conspiracy to traffic in narcotics following the interception of a pink suitcase with some 50 pounds of cocaine that arrived in the US from Guyana, said the dog he handled and the other one owned by the force had only sniffed cocaine once.

The former officer said that Argon and another police dog, a Labrador named Lacey born 1999 and 2004 respectively, only detected the presence of cocaine in outgoing luggage once when the handle of the suspected suitcase had traces of cocaine on it. “When the passenger who checked in the suitcase was interviewed, she admitted that she had snorted cocaine shortly before the flight and did not wash her hands before handling the suitcase,” he stated.

According to the former officer, who has had 14 years experience in the force,   in 2006 he attended a training course for training of sniffer dogs and their handlers at the US Canine Unlimited Academy Training. He said the standard operating procedure for dogs that have been trained to detect illicit substances is that the dog, prior to embarking on such a search must be provided with a sample of the illicit substance. The former officer said upon his return to Guyana along with the police dog Argon he informed his superiors of the content of the training course as well as the necessity for the dogs to sniff cocaine before going to the airport for their detection exercises. “At a training session held by the Guyana Police Force late last year the Crime Chief informed me that he would not be providing any cocaine for the Canine Division as he was of the opinion that they would either sniff it or sell it,” Smith said in his affidavit.

Meanwhile, Director of Public Prosecution Shalimar Ali-Hack has denied that her advice to charge Smith had anything to do with an incident at the airport last year that involved Smith.

“…I wish to state that any person against whom I advise charges my advice is based solely on the evidence in the file and consideration of the relevant law,” Ali-Hack said in a letter to this newspaper in response to an article.

She also said, “I wish to state that the incident involving me and my husband at the CJIA on the 15th of October 2009 that is being referred to in the press is in no way related to the charges instituted by the police in relation to the security officers of CJIA who permitted the pink suitcase to leave the said CJIA on 12th January 2009.”

Smith in his affidavit had said that on October 15, 2009, he was at the airport with the dog Argon, when he was contacted by a customer service agent who informed him that a suitcase had fallen from the cart conveying the suitcases to the airplane and that he wanted a canine security check to be conducted to ensure that nothing illegal had been placed in the suitcase.

He said the customer service agent paged the passengers whose suitcase had fallen and they turned out to be the DPP and her husband, neither of whom protested the search, which did not unearth anything out of the ordinary.

However, upon the DPP’s return to Guyana, Smith said he was summoned to his superior’s office, where he was told that the DPP had requested that his services with the force be terminated because he caused the dog to sniff her suitcase.

A statement was requested from him, which he submitted, and his services were not terminated.

However, the DPP in her letter while acknowledging that there was an incident at the airport involving her and husband on the said date, said it did not involve a dog sniffing her suitcase.

She did not deny that she recommended that Smith be dismissed from the force on her return to Guyana.

The DPP said the issues raised in the High Court, to which she had been ordered to respond, was misrepresentation by the defence “who in a devious and calculating manner is attempting to divert from the facts.”

According to Smith, on the day when the pink suitcase went through Timehri, the dog Argon did not display any signs that he had detected the presence of cocaine on any of the outgoing suitcases on Delta Flight 384.

In her recommendation to have Smith charged, Ali-Hack noted that Smith in his statement said he did not get any response from the dog for that flight. “According to the photographs and information submitted by the US law enforcement agents, the suitcase had 22 bricked shaped objects weighing 24 kilogrammes 622.6 grammes that tested positive for cocaine. Given this quantity of cocaine, it ought to have been detected by the dog. This is further supported by the US CPB Canine that alerted the officials to the suitcase at JFK.”

On Monday afternoon the DPP will have to appear in a Full Court presided over by Justices William Ramlal and Roxanne George and show cause why the charges against Smith and Roraima Airways security office, Roderick Peterkin should not be quashed.

In their affidavits both Smith and Peterkin objected to further advice given to the Crime Chief by the DPP, that information be shared with US authorities so they could proffer an indictment against all four accused and have them extradited for trial in the US, if the authorities so decided. She had noted that the four not only committed an offence in Guyana but also committed offences contrary to the laws of the US. She said the sharing of information would “encourage the US authorities in future to share more information with the GPF.”

Responding to this, Trotman told Stabroek News that where the issue of the sharing of information was concerned, Guyana had to practise reciprocity.

“However, we should not be persecuting people by deliberately sharing information to get them into more trouble, but rather be prepared to share and cooperate when formally requested by another state,” he told Stabroek News.

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