Over a hundred fifth grade students piled into the gym Friday for a demonstration by Hightstown police.
Police Officer Frank Marchione and his K9 partner, Niko, showed students how the police dog works by hiding a bag of marijuana under one of three cones and, on command, Niko sniffed out the drugs.
By scratching at the cone, Niko told Marchione there were drugs hidden, and was rewarded with a toy to play with. Marchione told the students Niko was trained to sniff out drugs by associating them with playtime, which is why the K9 is rewarded with his toy.
Since the Hightstown Police Department added Niko to the department, he has been credited with more than 150 arrests, has seized more than $90,000 in cash and has taken several drugs off the street, Marchione said. He is also used in community policing efforts, has caught a burglar who was in a window, and is trained in tracking and apprehension.
“He is a terrific tool for law enforcement and as long as we can continue to use him and train him properly, he is nothing but an asset to any department,” Marchione said.
The K9 also helps with building relations with other towns, Marchione said, noting they have worked with several in the area, including Robbinsville, , West Windsor, , Trenton and Plainsboro, as well as the Mercer County Sherriff’s Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Niko was bought from the Czech Republic after the police department received $10,000 in donations from local businesses, which covered the cost as well as expenses, Marchione said. A pet store donated food for the K9 for three years, and the department is currently working on being able to use money the dog seizes to help pay for expenses.
Throughout the demonstration students asked questions from the dog’s height standing on his hind legs, to whether or not the dog’s sense of smell is hurt from sniffing cocaine during training (Marchione said the drugs are tightly wrapped so they are not ingested). And at the end of the assembly, students were able to pet with Niko before returning to class.