Ahoskie approves arson dog

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 27, 2006

AHOSKIE – A plan is in the works to add to the staff of the Ahoskie Police Department.

However, the newest member, if approved, will walk on four legs instead of two.

Ahoskie Police Chief Troy Fitzhugh has the blessings of the Town Council to proceed with the application process that may lead the town in acquiring an arson detection dog.

This all comes in the wake of two suspicious fires in downtown Ahoskie during Easter weekend. A juvenile has been charged in one of those fires. The other, an intensive blaze that totally destroyed Daniels Flea Market on Easter Sunday, remains under investigation by the North Carolina SBI.

An arson detection dog was used in the aftermath of both fires.

The idea for Ahoskie to have an animal specially trained to detect accelerants used to fuel a fire came from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). That agency is attached to the United States Department of Justice, one performing the dual responsibilities of enforcing Federal criminal laws and regulating the firearms and explosives industries. ATF agents also investigate and reduce crime involving firearms and explosives, acts of arson, and illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products.

The good news in this effort to land an arson detection dog is that it comes at an extremely reasonable price to the town.

“There is no cost to the town other than having the dog undergo an annual physical checkup and supplying the dog with food,” Fitzhugh said.

Fitzhugh estimated that annual cost at approximately $1,700.

“The ATF pays the majority of the bills,” Fitzhugh noted. “They pay to have the dog trained and pay for the dog’s handler to undergo training in how to properly use the animal in the performance of its duties.”

Fitzhugh said the training sessions plus the cost of the animal would total in the neighborhood of $50,000, all paid by the ATF.

In addition, the Ahoskie dog and handler will be on-call to assist in ATF investigations throughout the nation.

“Again, the ATF picks up the tab for the travel and time spent assisting their agents in these types of on-call investigations,” Fitzhugh said. “At minimum, this is a $50,000 deal in return for a local investment of about $1,700.”

Fitzhugh added that the dog and its handler would be available to assist local and regional law enforcement agencies in arson investigations.

“That makes the town of Ahoskie and its police department look good when we can lend a helping hand,” said the Chief.

APD Detective Sgt. Jeremy Roberts will handle the dog. Fitzhugh said Roberts had agreed to take the training classes as well as house the dog at his home.

Town Council members voted 5-0 to allow Fitzhugh to proceed with the ATF application process.