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'It makes our unit proud': KBI's first-ever K-9 unit sees success in fentanyl seizures

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Posted at 6:50 PM, Jul 09, 2024

KSHB 41 reporter JuYeon Kim covers agricultural issues and the fentanyl crisis. If you have a story idea to share, send her an email to juyeon.kim@kshb.com.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation was the first agency in the state to create a K-9 unit that specifically detects fentanyl.

Since its inception last year, KBI has seen success in drug seizures but has faced challenges due to the dangerous nature of the drug.

All handlers carry Narcan on their bodies in case their K-9 partners are exposed.

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“Law enforcement K-9s could detect meth, cocaine and marijuana, but none could detect just fentanyl,” said KBI Director Tony Mattivi. “We have four that do drugs, right? They are capable of detecting fentanyl along with the other major drugs. Then, we have another dog now that is now capable of detecting electronic devices.”

KBI’s K-9 unit is part of a bigger collaboration with the Kansas Highway Patrol — the Joint Fentanyl Impact Team.

KHP takes care of the state highways, while KBI takes care of commercial packages often at distribution centers.

“UPS or FedEx or the United States Postal Service,” Mattivi said. “We’re finding, unfortunately, a tremendous amount of fentanyl that is being shipped that way.”

Other local and federal agencies joined the efforts, including Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Recently, special agents in charge seized 59 pounds of crystal meth, two kilograms of pure fentanyl powder and 60,000 fentanyl pills in one shipment.

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“Every fentanyl find can obviously save a life,” said Brentt Donaldson, special agent and K-9 handler. “It makes our unit proud. There’s many agencies that come to us with questions on how we do it safely.”

For Donaldson and his K-9 partner, Kuno, saving lives is not only their passion but their legacy. They have been working together since May 2023 when KBI adopted Kuno from a kennel in Texas.

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Kuno was born and trained in Holland before moving to the United States. It was his hunting drive and ability to easily adapt to his surroundings that put him at the top.

“I want the history. For us to be able to look back in 20 years and be proud of what we did to make citizens safe,” Donaldson said. “This is the first K-9 unit KBI has ever had, and to hit the ground running with something so important as this is nothing short of amazing.”

The K-9 unit currently trains as a group every Monday. Five K-9 officers and their handlers are scattered across the state, but they meet as a group to train.

“Everything about dog training is repetition and reward,” Donaldson said. “We’ll hide different training odors, different drugs that he’s certified on, unbeknownst to me, and allow Kuno to find those.”

KBI wants to hire more K-9s and handlers going forward, but Mattivi said staffing has been a challenge because of KBI’s pay scale.

However, Kansas lawmakers heard the agency’s plea for more funding and support for its Career Progression Plan, so KBI is now in the process of hiring staff for its fentanyl initiative.

“We’re getting very close to being full strength for agents,” Mattivi said.