GILBERT, Ariz. - In 2022 alone, the DEA seized more than 22 million fentanyl pills in Arizona, making up more than half the national total.
With agents saying the cartels are still using the Grand Canyon State as the main highway into the U.S., local police departments in the Phoenix area have to stay vigilant, and thanks to one recruit, they are managing to get the upper hand.
In Gilbert, police officials say they have a special weapon at their disposal: a K-9 named Vegas.
Vegas, a 4-year-old German Shephard, has a very special set of skills.
"It's just really, really rewarding, and I can’t do it without him," said Det. Tristan Stanger. "He's such a huge asset to our department and our community."
Vegas is the first fentanyl trained K-9 in the Phoenix area. Not only does he help Gilbert Police, he also helps other departments, traveling across multiple cities and finding the powerful opioid every day.
"Unfortunately, we are seeing it in every community, and we are going to need dogs in every community that can help law enforcement be able to kind of identify where the fentanyl is in our community, how it’s being distributed," said Stanger.
As the fentanyl crisis continues to grow, Vegas' work is becoming more and more demanding. In 2022 alone, Gilbert Police seized two million fentanyl pills and 62 pounds of fentanyl powder. Their investigations have even helped other states.
"It led to the arrest of somebody who was distributing their fentanyl in at least 15 different states we could identify, and it led to his arrest," said Stanger. "We have received phone calls from other states, from detectives and agents telling us the impact it’s had on their community in other states."
Keeping Vegas safe, however, is of the utmost importance.
"What I learned from working close with our vet is their tolerance to opioids is much higher than ours, but we do work hand in hand with a local vet who specializes in police K-9s, and they’ve taught us and given us training tools and resources on how to keep him safe. We also carry Narcan with us."
Vegas is Stanger’s first police dog. Stanger got him as a puppy from Czechia, a European country more widely known in English parlance as the Czech Republic. Both Stanger and Vegas went through extensive training, and they are now inseperable.
During their off time, both Stanger and Vegas like to relax.
"He’s still kind of a puppy, and he really enjoys to play, so any downtime we do have from working cases, we spend at the park playing," said Stanger. "We spend a lot of time together, both at home and at work."
Since Vegas came to Gilbert Police two years ago, they have trained two other dogs to detect fentanyl. Other police departments have trained their K-9s as well.
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