Military and Police

Warren Buffett’s Son, Sheriff Howard Buffet, Supports Euthenizing Pot-Detecting Canines

An astronaut surely knows about the sun, the stars, and the moon. A plumber definitely knows about water pressure and pipes. A phlebotomist is prickly familiar with blood draws. A law enforcement officer would certainly know about police work and K9s partnered with human counterparts, right? I thought that was a given, like a rhetorical question…until today. Macon County, Illinois Sheriff Howard Buffett, who happens to be billionaire Warren Buffett’s son, supports the dreadfully misguided notion that police canines traditionally trained to detect the presence of marijuana ought to be euthanized since cannabis legalization is sweeping the nation.

Controversial comments were made by Sheriff Buffett on May 8, 2018 and reported in a Newsweek expose written by Gillian Edevane, saying, “…Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett […] claimed in an interview that entire units of K-9 officers would have to be replaced if voters approve legalizing marijuana, as they are on the cusp of doing in the next election.” Without rebuke from Sheriff Buffett, the county K9 training cop swam in graphic waters but in the shallow end.

September 2017: Swearing-in ceremony for Macon County, Illinois Sheriff Howard Buffett, the son of famed billionaire Warren Buffett. (Credit: Facebook/Macon County Sheriff’s Office)

Sheriff Buffett’s director of training at the Macon County K9 Training Academy, Chad Larner believes “many of the state’s 275 dogs may have to be euthanized if voters approve recreational pot use. Larner and Buffett […] have since attempted to walk back those claims.” That is often the case when bona fide boneheaded words uttered by government officials go public.

That is what one may deem a shortsighted decision bordering on reckless abandonment.

In an independent exhibit of grey, spongey and disingenuous mind matter, Sheriff Buffett left little room for a helping of basic morality, ethics, and stewardship over police personnel. That’s right, police canines are sworn personnel and it bites to hear any law enforcement official defer to extinguishing the life of a police practitioner simply because they outlived one particular use. At least that is what Sheriff Buffett is implying, no?

Has cocaine been outlawed? Has heroin been replaced by licorice? Other drugs ordinarily detected by police canines legalized over the weekend?

Even if there is validation to retire a police dog, it routinely and dutifully is bestowed upon the police dog handler whose home becomes a retirement haven, one in which the dog is already acclimated. It makes for one more treat. Police dogs do not live in kennels on any police compound or in HQ, they go everywhere a dog handler goes, whether on- or off-duty.

Wouldn’t a county sheriff know the myriad attributes to each and every police dog as well as canines in general? It is a nationally-held honor of conferring upon police dog handlers their canine partners who are up for retirement or otherwise decommissioned for whatever reason. That is not only a moral endearment but also a morale booster for the human cop counterpart who has forged bonds with his/her K9 which unconditionally devoted an unmatched duty. How could any public servant be so wickedly blind and arrogantly against preservation of life, in this case diehard dogs willing to defend the good guys/gals?

Police canines trained as “drug dogs” are not only indoctrinated to smell weed to substantiate probable cause (PC) for human counterpart cops to effect arrests via the PC provided by the canine partner, they are also incredible organisms when it comes to public relations and, frankly, taking a bite out of crime. They are the compass for cops on the trail of fleeing suspects. They are Missing Persons detectors. They flush out burglars. They are instrumental to every police force.

In two sentences, The Pantagraph summed it up this way: “Police agencies spend thousands of dollars and months of training to teach dogs how to sniff out and alert officers to the presence of marijuana, heroin, cocaine and other drugs. If pot use becomes legal, the dogs would likely either have to be retrained—which some handlers say is impossible or impractical—or retired.” I agree and disagree. Yes, it is costly; but dogs are wholly advantageous for police work. Indeed, other drugs are sniffed-out by police K9s, so they maintain validation and certification.

It’s that last part—”retired”—which irks me. Why are we knee-jerking and dashing to the last chapter (retirement) when there remains much more police dogs can achieve for humanity? Their very own statement (“…sniff out and alert officers to the presence of marijuana, heroin, cocaine and other drugs”) attests to maintaining a status quo minus pot detections.

And it is not just Sheriff Buffett and Detective Larner who strongly believe the police dogs are useless once pot is legalized. Assistant Police Chief Steve Petrilli of the Normal Police Department claimed it’s “impossible” to retrain the canines in police service.

Not so fast, gents. Police agencies in Washington State have been successful in retraining pot-sniffing canines, essentially deprogramming away from weed detection and optimizing concentration on other illegal substances. But Washington’s marijuana decriminalization does not mean it is entirely legal. Depending on the weight, it can still be a significant drug offense such as trafficking. Pot’s black market is not dissolved, thus engendering police canines’ hypersensitive sniffing skills, to include cannabis. How is this not discernible to any cop?

Pacific Northwest Detection Dog Association dog trainer Fred Helfers is a 20-year-seasoned narcotics investigator who cautions police agencies supplanting pot training, calling it a “knee-jerk” reaction. Per The Guardian, Helfers said “they may miss actual crimes being committed. ‘What about trafficking? What about people who have more than an ounce?'”

A passage I read in an Associated Press article is quite telling: “Police say that having a K-9 unit that doesn’t alert to pot will lessen challenges to obtaining search warrants because the dog won’t be pointing out possible legal amounts of the drug. Traditionally, dogs are trained to alert on the smell of marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and cocaine. They can’t tell which it is or how much of each there is.” Doesn’t that put oppositionists like Sheriff Buffett and Detective Larner under the hot lamps?

Another point bandied about by both Sheriff Buffett and Detective Larner is that police canines are trained to be anti-social, therefore they serve no purpose in keeping them on staff. What about the human law enforcers who have bonded with their four-legged partners and can/will care for them? Why is that not considered against the extreme posed by euthanasia?

June 6, 2014: “Exactly 5 months ago today I was currently getting prepped for the operating table for my first surgery. It has been a long and more often than not, frustrating 5 months. I know I have come a long way but there is still work to be done. When I climbed back up the stairs after shattering my elbow, I proved I refuse to quit while there is still work to be done…I look forward to celebrating with you all the day I go back to my office and make my first bust.(Credit: Facebook/K9 Kota)

According to the Belleville News-Democrat, Larner’s boss, Decatur Police Chief James Getz Jr., told the media that Larner misspoke, calling it “a bad choice of words.” I’ll say. So here we have a Decatur police detective who is also the county’s police K9 training director making ridiculous utterances and recanting his message. Does he believe in his words or is the pressure from the fallout too much to bear? Does such a philosophy warrant removal from his training position? Some would say yes, certainly under the premise that he exhibits wanton disregard for the true value of any police dog’s existence.

I can’t shake the feeling that something else may be fueling this barbaric disposition.

Earlier, I suggested shortsighted decision-making bordering on reckless abandonment. But what if something more outlandish were afoot…with political strings attached and hocus-pocus slight-of-hand maneuvering? After all, he has already demonstrated no misgivings in submitting outrageous connotations of killing police canines for meager reason. That is, until it was publicized beyond Illinois borders. Could the sheriff be strategizing his stocks as well as his father?

What if Sheriff Buffett’s and Detective Larner’s controversial comments and harsh attitude about human/animal partnership stems from decriminalizing weed in Illinois? It is possible his potent and brash statement pertaining to euthanizing all police dogs is a play on sympathies designed to sway the voter base whose hearts for animals pulse. In his mind, it may be the sheriff’s mental crutch to dissuade such legislation from occurring: Legalize pot and say goodbye to our beloved police dogs!

On that note, I harbor no apprehensions in suggesting delusion (agenda) is weaved into a certain sheriff’s cloth. That goes for his cohort and police dog training director, too.

Even if it were so that police K9s were abbreviated in scope due to marijuana legalization, why resort to extermination of four-legged staff essentially paid for and owned by taxpayers? If you are suddenly thinking Why don’t we instead get rid of the sheriff? then your critical-thinking skills are admirable.

Indeed, that is a statement that has merit, morality and purpose. Speaking of purpose, Decatur police Chief Getz provided his sense when he shared his sentiments with the Chicago Tribune on May 9, 2018: “There are so many uses for these dogs. They are multipurpose dogs. We anticipate those dogs are going to work with us for a long, long time.” Perhaps they’ll outlast Mr. Larner and Sheriff Buffett.

With any organism honorably and unconditionally dedicated to human salvation, it is nothing shy of barbaric to infuse poison for flawed reason or political purpose or irrational instigation. What happened to humanity? Why must man’s best friend be unfriended?

(Credit: Facebook/K9 Kota)
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Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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