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​Must love dogs

Issued: Friday 7 October 2016

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Imagine going to work each day and taking your dog with you. For some lucky staff at CSNSW, that’s exactly what they do.

There are more than 30 specially-trained K9s employed by CSNSW, who sniff out contraband in the state’s prisons, and every day they come to work with their trainer.

The K9 unit is part of the elite Security Operations Group, where specialised correctional officers undertake a three-month course in dog handling and training.

K9 dog in action

Their regular searches help fight drugs and other contraband getting into correctional centres, providing an improved level of safety and security to staff as well as the inmates.

Acting K9 Training Manager Sharon Charman has worked with three dogs from the same family over the past 14 years and has developed strong bonds with them all.

“My first border collie was Roy, who has passed away, then I still have Astro, who is 10 and already retired. Then there’s Astro’s daughter, Lexi, who works with me today,” Ms Charman said.

“It’s the first contraband bust with your dog that will always be the most memorable. I was with Roy at the old Parramatta Periodic Detention Centre and he was sniffing around the belongings of a new inmate intake. He dragged a brown paper bag to my feet and inside was a large stash of marijuana.

Photo of a dog resting

“They’ve all been involved in a number of successful busts. One of the biggest was 17.3 grams of drugs found in the bra of a female visitor at the Silverwater Correctional Complex.”

During the past financial year, the SOG conducted more than 80,000 searches of visitors, their property and their vehicles, including more than 62,000 with K9s.

This resulted in 204 visitors being charged by police for contraband offences. Correctional centres refused entry to 1,227 visitors for the same reason during this period.

The training tactics used by the unit have been adopted by counterparts in other states including ACT Corrective Services. Each handler is assigned a dog and is responsible for training him or her to recognise particular odours.

The unit is deployed to assist with inmate search operations and visitor operations. Some of the dogs are trained to discover drugs while others are trained to detect phones and even explosives.

Donny Cochran has been part of the SOG for four and a half years and said the highlight of his career was graduating as a K9 handler in October last year.

Donny Cochran with drug-detection dog Koby,

“My drug-detection dog Koby, a kelpie-collie cross, was rescued from Kempsey. He’s added a positive dynamic to my family,” Mr Cochrane said.

“The work’s not for everyone but I get a lot of job satisfaction.”