After resigning from his position, an expert dog trainer and veteran of California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for more than 25 years has criticized a new program to reduce prison drug smuggling.
Wayne Conrad, 61, who quit in September 2014 after he was purportedly threatened by an associate warden, said CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard’s statewide plan to use more docile breeds of dogs to sniff out drugs and cell phones is both a waste of money and uses “antiquated” methods that would not withstand legal scrutiny.
In 2009, CDCR officials asked Conrad to come out of retirement and return to the department to organize their efforts to reduce drug and cell phone smuggling in state prisons. Conrad proceeded to assemble a team of handlers and trainers paired with 32 dogs across the state.
“And the beauty is that it was done with no funding,” he said. “All the dogs we received, they were either Belgian Malinois, German shepherds or Dutch shepherds. They were all donated or found in rescues. These dogs didn’t cost the department anything.”
Conrad bragged that one of his adopted dogs, a German shepherd named Drako, sniffed out 1,000 cell phones hidden by prisoners.
But in 2014, Beard directed the CDCR to implement a new pilot program, the Enhanced Drug and Contraband Interdiction Program (EDCIP), at an initial cost of $5.2 million. The EDCIP used a dozen German shorthaired pointers and Labrador retrievers, according to Conrad, which cost the state at least $5,000 each.
The program also included the use of ion scanners, full body scanners and physical searches to keep drugs and cell phones out of the state prison system. In early 2016, the CDCR expanded the use of dogs and ion scanners to screen visitors at 11 state prisons as part of an effort to stem the flow of contraband into correctional facilities. Accompanying this expanded use of interdiction methods, the CDCR requested a further $7.9 million in EDCIP funding in 2016.
Secretary Beard, who became the CDCR’s top official in December 2012 after spending 10 years heading Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections, explained to California legislators why the CDCR chose to use what he called “passive alert dogs” to search for drugs instead of more traditional breeds.
“I remember when we rolled them out in the mid-2000s in Pennsylvania,” Beard told a Senate subcommittee. “I expected we’d get a lot of complaints and we got no complaints.... They’re friendly dogs, and that’s what we’re trying to do here as well.”
Conrad challenged the claim that the new search dogs are less intimidating than the former breeds, arguing that “two of the German shorthaired pointers are larger than any dog” on his team. He was also critical of Beard’s decision to send three CDCR dog handlers to Pennsylvania to train with that state’s prison dog trainer. The trip, Conrad said, cost $50,000.
Upon their return to California, according to Conrad, he and the other CDCR handlers were threatened by an associate warden at CDCR headquarters when they expressed doubts about the value of their training and the legality of some of the new search tactics.
“He repeated it twice,” Conrad said. “He looked at each one of us, pointing his finger at each one of us, and said that if he finds out that we spoke negatively of the Pennsylvania trip, I will f’ing end you.”
CDCR spokesperson Deborah Hoffman stated the department was investigating Conrad’s claim that he and the other dog handlers were threatened.
Sources: KXTV-Channel 10, www.news10.net, www.sanquentinnews.com
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