UNION CITY — A few years ago, Union City was facing a serious drug problem. But these days, the consensus seems to be that things are turning around.
A big part of that perceived change comes from the city’s use of K9 police officers. Officer Jeff Turner, who owns a business, K9 Solutions, that prepares and trains police dogs, was hired as a part-time officer in Union City two years ago and brought his own partner and K9 officer, Atticus, along with him when he joined the force. Later, the department acquired a second, full-time K9 officer, Bruno, through a combination of Chief Mark Ater and Officer Turner’s own funds, and those donated by the community.
K9 officers are trained to detect the scent of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. So far, Union City’s dogs have a good track record, finding drugs on at least 28 occasions during the last six months. During the six months before that, according to Turner, there had been only eight drug arrests. The dogs also are used to conduct school sweeps searching for drugs, as well as to help out officers in neighboring Union City, Indiana, from time to time.
Officer Turner acknowledged that it’s difficult to measure the exact extent of the drug problem in Union City, as well as how effective the police department’s efforts have been in combating it.
“The only way we can measure the drug problem is by what we’re able to do about it,” Turner said. “I truly feel that we’re putting a dent in it, and that we will continue to do so. We know we have a drug problem, and that’s why we’re using all of these resources.”
And those resources amount to more than just the use of the K9 officers themselves.
“We have an anonymous tip line that we’ve put in place,” Turner said. “It goes straight to a recording and then emails us a transcript of what was said. For instance, someone might say, ‘I have a concern about a house in the area, and here’s what I’ve seen, and here’s why I have that concern.’ If it’s just one person saying, ‘I think my neighbor is selling drugs,’ that’s one thing. But if three or four people come forward with concerns about the same house, that’s something else. And it’s something we never would have known about without getting those tips from within the community.”
Communication with the public is key to combating the drug problem, Turner said.
“Chief Ater and I both encourage our officers to get out and do foot patrols in the community. Talk to people. Talk to kids,” Turner said. “It’s amazing what kids will tell you. I think it all goes back to good public relations.”
The Union City Police Department’s communication strategy also involves going into schools, producing educational videos about the department itself and attending public meetings of groups like the local Latino Association, all with the goal of creating a good relationship between the department and the community.
“We’re getting a lot of positive feedback,” Turner said. “I’ve had people come down off their porch and shake my hand and say, ‘We really appreciate you guys going above and beyond and not just doing basic traffic stops.”
Finally, the department also has programs in place to help those in the community who may be struggling with addiction, including The Hope Project, a program they run along with police in Union City, Indiana.
“If they come into the police department and say, ‘I want help,’ they’re not going to be arrested, even if they have something on them,” Turner said. “We have resources that can help them get on the right track.”
Union City residents can reach the city’s anonymous tip line at 937-459-1210.