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L.A. County hires firm to search juvenile halls with drug-sniffing dogs

Interquest Detection Canines will begin work in March. It is the first time the Probation Department has used a private company for such tasks.

February 04, 2009|Molly Hennessy-Fiske

A private company will use drug-sniffing dogs to search Los Angeles County juvenile probation camps and halls beginning in March, marking the first time the Probation Department has turned to a non-law enforcement agency for such searches.

County supervisors on Tuesday approved using $100,000 in county court services reserve funds to hire Interquest Detection Canines. The money covers a year's contract, with the option to renew for four additional years, which includes mostly scheduled searches at the county's three halls and 19 camps.

The move to hire a private company comes about seven months after the Sheriff's Department staged an undercover operation that used drug-sniffing dogs to investigate a suspected drug-dealing network at Central Juvenile Hall. No drugs were recovered at the hall, but the investigation resulted in the ouster of at least one probation officer who investigators discovered had marijuana in his home.

Interquest, a San Marino franchise of the Houston-based chain, has been in business for about nine years and has six dog search teams. The firm has never been hired to search a juvenile or adult detention facility, but it works in more than 100 area public and private schools, said owner Scott Edmonds, a retired San Marino police officer.

Edmonds said all of his dogs are child-friendly golden or Labrador retrievers trained to signal handlers to the presence of drugs passively -- by sitting down -- rather than by biting or using their claws as some police search or patrol dogs might.

None of the dogs have ever injured young people during searches, he said.

"We believe that the presence of 'passive alert' dogs will not only assist in the discovery and recovery of narcotics, but will also serve as a deterrent," said Robert Taylor, who heads the Probation Department, in a statement released Tuesday.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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