NEW PORT RICHEY – Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco introduced the newest member of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office’s Forensic team at a press conference.
While that is an announcement that normally doesn’t get much fanfare, this occasion was quite different.
The officer in question has, in fact, already served on the force for more than a year.
The dog, known as K9 Phi, has been transferred in-house to serve with the department’s Forensics team, making him the only officer of his kind working in the Tampa Bay area.
K9 Phi has been teamed with forensics investigator Heidi Sievers.
Nocco said the idea to try an idea which is new to local law enforcement came from visits to area high schools.
“We talk to the students and have seen a change in students’ interests over the last few years – the ‘CSI’ effect,” Nocco said, referring to the popular TV crime show franchise. “As we had conversations about those school presentations, they came up with the thought about how great it would be to have an addition to our forensics team.”
The Sheriff’s Office has been working with the FBI, Florida Gulf Coast University, and will work with the University of Florida.
“This is a unique opportunity and not just for those that want to get into law enforcement,” Nocco said. “This is a new avenue. They watch the TV show and think you get a cool vehicles and cool equipment. These are new opportunities.”
The sheriff noted that traditionally, K9s have not been part of forensic units.
“We are doing these things because we have great members who can do this job,” he said. “This is an important and tough job. At the end of the day when we can bring justice and resolution to a family, that’s what makes it all worth it.”
Jimmy Hall, who is in charge of the Forensic K9 program at the Sheriff’s Office, said this takes the idea of cadaver dogs “to a new level.”
“We’re not just ‘search and recovery’ for bodies,” Hall said. “We’re looking for bodily fluids, any decomposition material, or even cold case-type of investigations. These dogs can help further our investigations.”
He said there is also a dog working with a volunteer and another K9 will soon be officially assigned to the forensics unit.
“This is unlike what anyone else is doing at least regionally or maybe throughout the country,” Hall said.
He noted a major difference is the K9s can identify crime scenes.
“You could find evidence a block away that we might never have come across,” Hall said. “If you have 15 or 20 investigators out there, they are limited by sight. We can put the dog out and the odors are much more powerful. We can also cover a larger area quicker.”
Sievers said K9 Phi has been staying with her and they have developed a fast and true bond. “We are always together,” she said.
The sheriff said it is because of a “supportive and generous” community that the Sheriff’s Office can take advantage of the newest law enforcement tools and strategies.
“The community has stepped up and said they want to provide K9s,” Nocco said noting the donations of area citizens have been a major part of upgrading the force. “We’ve been able to at least triple the size of our K9 unit over the past few years. With that, we recognize there are some specialties we need.”
Nocco referred back to the high school visits.
“We want to build up the next generation of leaders. We want to build up the next generation of public safety. They have ideas,” he said, “We know this will add to our recruitment. People want this opportunity and now we have a unique opportunity to go into Forensics as well as work with a K9. We want to build that bond with our next generation.”