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K-9 brought peaceful end to drug bust

By Staff | Apr 16, 2010

Shepherdstown’s police K-9 “Turk” at play with Patrolman James Cummings’ children and one of the family dogs

Editor’s note: The following gives details about a drug interdiction that was mis-characterized on Page 1 of the April 9 Chronicle as a traffic stop. The editor apologizes for the error.

In early 2010, Shepherdstown Police Department officers responded to a report of suspicious vehicles in a parking lot on the west side of town. What began as a routine call quickly became a situation in which officers’ safety was at stake. The effective use of the town’s new K-9 “Turk” by handler James Cummings helped diffuse what could have been a violent standoff.

Cummings recalls police arrived at the scene about 2:45 a.m. and found drug paraphernalia on the ground near a sport utility vehicle. When police shined their lights in the vehicle, they saw ammunition inside. Three men in the vehicle were ordered to come out.

Having discovered the ammunition, the officers then began to operate as though weapons also were inside, Cummings said.

After repeated orders to the men to get out of the SUV, Cummings shouted that if they did not come out, he would force entry into the vehicle and have the K-9 assist in getting them out of the car.

Immediately, all three men got out and complied with police for the remainder of the evening. Cummings said no weapons were found, but police did write drug citations.

“We got narcotics off the street that night,” Cummings said.

Cummings and Police Chief Tim Johnson both emphasized that the K-9 would never be used on a routine traffic stop and that an officer would only force entry into someone’s vehicle as a last resort and in situations where officers’ safety or a citizen’s safety was at stake.

“We’d never use a K-9 in excessive force,” Cummings said. “A K-9 is not a ‘bite dog.’ They are for the sole means of apprehension. . . . The dog’s not meant to intimidate people.”

Cummings said of the most recent 60 traffic stops he has made, the K-9 was used on only two for an “air sniff,” where the dog indicates whether there may be a need to search the car for drugs. “It’s when we believe that narcotics are present.”

Johnson, Cummings and Sgt. Dave Ransom visited the Chronicle’s Duke Street office this week to discuss the K-9 unit and to help reassure the public that the department is about community policing and public safety.

“This is something we don’t do, just going around busting out windows,” Johnson said, noting about a dozen people have approached him about the initial news story that did not give the details about the drug interdiction. “If anybody has any concerns or problems they can stop in and talk to me. My door’s always open.”

Cummings said the incident in which the men refused to come out of the SUV called for quick action once officers saw bullets in the car.

“Once you see the ammunition, if you don’t assume there’s a weapon, you just got yourself killed,” Cummings said of the incident. “If you underestimate the sutuation, that’s when officers get killed. . . . I hope the everyday individual would see it the same way.”

He emphasized the K-9’s primary duties involve building searches and sweeps after break-ins, searching for lost children or the elderly and alarm calls.

“It’s the good things that we can do for people is what we want,” Cummings said of the K-9 unit.

“We’re right here now,” Cummings said. “It’s ‘no wait’ for a K-9.” He can be in town from his home within 10 minutes of an emergency call, he said.

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There is a special town K-9 fund for Turk’s equipment, training and veterinary care needs.

Turk lives with Cummings, who takes care of all the expenses.

Turk and Cummings are certified through the State of West Virginia and Jefferson County and plan to get federal certification in the future.

Anyone who wishes to support the K-9 fund may stop at the South Princess Street department or call (304) 876-6036.