Lawmakers look to K-9 units to reduce state's drug problem

Lawmakers look to K-9 units to reduce state's drug problem

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lawmakers are looking to crack down on the state's illegal drug epidemic with the help of man's best friend.

State Senator Kai Kahele of Hilo says drugs continue to hurt Hawaii's communities, and he hopes to tackle drug trafficking that happens through our airports.

"It is coming in from the U.S. Mainland, from the Asia Pacific, and it's coming in from specific ports of entry," Kahele said.

He's proposing to expand the Department of Public Safety's K-9 unit from just five dogs serving Honolulu International Airport to 55 deputy canines based throughout the state's five major airports.

"We have to establish this on the outer islands, especially on the Big Island, on Kauai, and on Maui," Kahele said.

Under the plan, the dogs will not only be specialized in detecting illegal drugs, but also drug money that may be leaving the state. The proposal would provide $7-million in general funds for the program for the next two years.

However, the Public Safety Department says each dog needs a full-time deputy sheriff and that alone would cost nearly $8-million, not including the additional training needed to be canine handlers.

"We would support an expansion, but the cost of 50 employees and all related expenditures, in these dire fiscal times, is a challenge," Nolan Espinda, Public Safety Director said. 
The dogs are estimated to cost $16,000 each, and every canine would require a $45,000 SUV for transportation. In addition, costs for vet visits, food, and training need to be considered. The department says it will also take time to roll out this expansion.

"It takes us six months to train a Deputy Sheriff just to be a Deputy Sheriff. It will probably take the same amount of time to provide the specialized canine training to these people," said Espinda.

Sen. Kahele also wants to look at animal shelters across the state to see if any dogs would be a good fit for the program.

"I feel like once this program gets going - we're going to get drugs off the street, keep cash here in Hawaii that would otherwise be going to the mainland, and use that to sustain the program," said Kahele.

In addition to the five dogs based on Oahu, the Public Safety Department has four other canine teams funded by the federal government.

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