Indiana Prisons Using Canines to Sniff Out Cell Phones

Published 02/19 2014 10:49PM

Updated 02/19 2014 10:51PM

It's considered one of the most dangerous weapons to slip past security. Yet, we use them every day.

Cell phones are a huge threat to the Indiana Department of Corrections. In fact, the deputy commissioner says a prison gang from Michigan City ordered an inmate to be murdered at another facility by using a cell phone.

So, IDOC is getting aggressive in removing these simple yet deadly devices from prison.

They're so violent, leashes are needed to leave their cells. And one with a collar to keep them clean. But what Dixie's after, can't quite be flushed.

"There are cell phones in prison, we're trying to find them."

In the last two years, Wabash Valley Correctional Center confiscated nearly 300 cell phones, more than 3,500 system-wide. And Deputy Commissioner James Bassinger hopes Dixie will catch even more.

"Go switch up,"

Every day, the Belgian Malinwous sniffs for cell phones. And sometimes catches other contraband.

"By the pillow, she was hitting on it."

Just the scent of residue alerts Dixie. she smelled something on this mattress, so officers removed it for a more thorough inspection.

"Everything leaves a residual scent," said Correctional Officer Jarod Collenbaugh. "She showed a change in behavior. It wasn't a full indication, but I noticed right away she kept hitting at the same spot. And it was a definite change in behavior."

A full indication? A bit more aggressive.

Dixie's been at it since September. The deputy commisione now planning to expand the pilot program to all Indiana state prisons. Declaring cell phones deadly weapons.

"Offenders are using those to communicate and continue with criminal activity on the streets," said Bassinger. "Harassment of victims and they're also used to just call their family. There's a dual purpose"

Even in secured confinement, loopholes remain. Mail inspections can fall short. Visitors ignore warnings of potential jailtime. Even staffers will smuggle them in.

"We've had correctional officers."

Since 2009, five Wabash Valley staff members have been fired and arrested for selling cell phones. The currency? Commisary cash. Prison investigators say inmates will spend between 200 and $1,600. The more features, the bigger the price tag.

Ones with sim cards considered the biggest threat. They're slim and small and can transfer information within and out of prison. But they still let off a scent.

"You can break down a cell phone," said Collenbaugh, "and she could find the key items. Whether it's a cell phone battery, sim card charger, and we've also had her hit on bluetuth head devices"

Somehow, other electronics don't alert Dixie. But ones hiding phones do. Like this clock radio. It's actually a fully functioning cell phone.

Deputy Commissioner Basinger tells us canines like Dixie are actually the cheapest and most effective way to detect cell phones. Because unlike most other forms of technology, dogs can find them regardless if the phone's powered on.

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