The newest member of Fayette County Sheriffs Office law enforcement team does not sit behind the wheel in a squad car. In fact, he doesnt even sit in the front seat.
Phantom sits in the back seat of Deputy Shawn Carters squad car, always ready to assist Carter, Sheriff Aaron Lay and other county officers in drug cases or in searches for missing individuals.
A German shephard, Phantom is now Carters constant companion.
Ive seen them used before, so I knew have they can be effective in drug interdiction, said Lay. Every time that weve called for a dog (for assistance in finding drugs), the dog found what we were looking for.
Thus, Lay looked into adding a dog to his department for that purpose. It wasnt an overnight decision.
We studied this for over a year, the sheriff said.
His department worked with a trainer in Evansville, Ind., who is known worldwide for his success with dogs used by law enforcement agencies.
Phantom, who is from Slovokia, underwent 10 weeks of training and had several months of on-the-job experience when he was hooked up with Carter. Phantom and Carter then went through two weeks of training together.
I had to learn how to handle Phantom, and how to read what he was telling me, Carter said. You have to be able to tell whether he is picking up drugs, the scent of other dogs or something else.
Hes very valuable to our department, because hes yet another tool we have in our efforts against illegal drugs, Carter said.
His ability to pick up the scent of a person will be of great benefit when we are called to assist in locating a missing person, he said.
While Phantom is in many ways different than the other members of Lays team, his role in law enforcement is the same as the other team members, Carter emphasized.
This is a team effort, said Carter, who continues to respond to all types of calls handled by the sheriffs office.
Phantom and myself can be of assistance to other deputies in their cases, but we need their assistance every bit as much as they need us, he said.
At the completion of their training, the duo earned U.S. Police Canine Association certification, scoring 194 points on the 200-point certification test.
The training is ongoing, with Carter working with Phantom on drug tracking two or three times each day.
Though Phantom is not a pet, he still can enjoy some of a pets benefits. Play time is his reward, Carter said, adding that his 12-year-old son, Wyatt, assists him in working with Phantom.
Phantom was purchased using county funds, but not the property tax monies paid by county residents.
Contributing to the purchase and maintenance costs are monies that the county has seized and will seize as part of drug busts. For example, Lay said, if we seize a car in a drug bust, we can auction off the car and use those funds to pay Phantoms expenses.
A number of individuals, businesses and organizations are also part of the K-9 unit project.
To this point, weve had about 20 donors, Lay said. Weve gotten everything from money to a lifetime supply of dog food.
Weve gotten a real strong showing of support from people throughout the county who are interested in participating in this program, he said. Its a true county-wide community effort.