Cell phone searches in prison cells go to the dogs
Dangerous crimes are being committed by convicts, even though they're locked behind bars. Now, police inside prison walls are using K-9 officers to try to stop it.
Signs at Pendleton Correctional Facility warn visitors cell phones aren't allowed.
"Cell phones are probably one of the most valuable resources an offender can have," said Pendleton's Internal Affairs Officer Tom Francum.
He says the phones aren't just valuable because they help inmates stay in touch with friends and family.
"They can also use it to schedule their drug traffic, make their plans for inside or outside the facility. They have been involved in putting death threats and hits out on people," Francum said.
So how do you drop the call on illegally-smuggled cell phones? At the Department of Correction, they're targeting cells with smells.
Enter K-9 officer "Port." He and his handler, Officer Brantley Ferguson, do random searches of inmates and visitors. They've found two cell phones and chargers in the last couple months. One phone was smuggled in by a worker.
Statewide, K-9s and officers seized over 2,500 cell phones in 2012, including one found hidden in a prisoner's body after a visitor smuggled it to him.
Even inexpensive flip phones, Francum said, "sell for $1,000 or $2,500 in here. That's without a charger."
To show us how Port works, officers hid a flip phone in a boot in an empty cell, then placed the boot under a bed.
It took a few minutes, but Port stopped next to the boot and that signaled Officer Ferguson he'd found the phone.
"We don't know what the combination is that they're able to smell," says Lt. Donald Mockler. "Only thing we know is their sense of smell is a lot better than ours."
In the first nine months of 2013, corrections officers and K-9s found about a thousand phones. That's down from the year before and maybe a sign the K-9 searches are having a deterrent effect.
If caught trafficking, prisoners can lose their privilege to have visitors and can have time added to their sentences. Likewise, visitors smuggling in cell phones also risk prison time. That includes prison workers who have been arrested for trafficking.