FOR most people, Friday night is a time to clock off, head home, and plan for some weekend time-out. For the Police Transport Command, it’s a time to clock on, head out, and patrol for some wayward travellers.
For drug detector dog Maddy, it is her last night on the beat with handler Leading Senior Constable Aaron Gleaves. Maddy and Gleaves got their detection accreditation together in 2010, but it’s time for the labrador to retire.
Transport Command are the officers, mostly uniformed, but sometimes plain clothed, who patrol public transport. This can mean trains, buses, ferries, trams, even taxis.
On October 14, it’s a combined operation between the Command and officers from Goulburn, Bowral and Wollongong. Operation Disrupt removes drugs from the railways, drunk or drug-affected travellers, and fare evaders. In between scheduled trains at Goulburn Railway Station, the officers also sweep through licensed premises.
Maddy is integral to the operation. Cannabis has a pungent odour, even to the human nose; pills, comparably, are scentless. But not to Maddy, whose keen canine olfactory, some 200 times stronger, can sniff out such drugs, even secreted in plastic ziplock bags. Subtle changes in her behaviour can indicate drugs present. Gleaves also observes how people respond to her.
A sweep of a Canberra to Sydney train just before 7pm is all-clear. “No news is good news,” says operation commander Sergeant Michael Chubb. Public safety is the ultimate aim: “Drugs destroy lives … You don’t want people affected by drugs on public transport,” he says.
But as passengers disembark from the next train, Maddy gives a “tell” and a bag search reveals 16g of cannabis, weighed, verified and bagged as evidence in a nearby laboratory van. The man is cautioned. If there’s a next time, he will face court. “It’s not an automatic grab, search and lock away situation,” Sgt Chubb says. “There are firm guidelines.”
During Operation Disrupt, seven people were searched, and four arrested. A Goulburn man, 27, was charged with possessing a prohibited drug after a pub sweep found he had MDMA (ecstasy). Two Goulburn men, aged 51 and 58, received court attendance notices for possessing cannabis; and a man, 44, received an official caution for cannabis possession.
Maddy’s work is done, but for Sgt Chubb and Transport Command, it goes on.