It seems there’s never a shortage of news stories about drug busts at self-storage facilities. Frequently, the “officer” who sniffed out the evidence was a K-9 dog, a highly trained asset for law enforcement agencies.
In May, a K-9 officer named Pepo detected 62 pounds of marijuana in a storage unit in Paducah, KY. A couple of years ago, a K-9 officer named Brando ferreted out 65 pounds of marijuana valued at $234,000 in a storage unit DeForest, a suburb of Madison, WI.
“The problem of storage units being used for narcotics has been around for a very long time,” said Tim Zehring, a crime expert who specializes in self-storage facilities. “This is a legitimate problem.”
If the renters are not storing drug-related items, bombs or bomb-making materials, K-9 training should not be a problem.
— Self-storage crime consultant Tim Zehring
That’s why it makes sense for storage facilities to allow police K-9 units to train at their premises on a regular basis. At least that’s how David Wood, owner of Applewood Self Storage in Madison, WI, sees it. Wood has teamed up with the Madison Police Department’s K-9 Unit since 2009 to conduct training at both of his facilities.
Police officers train K-9s by hiding drugs in an empty storage unit and letting the dogs investigate until they detect the odor from outside the unit’s closed door, said Sgt. Chris Boyd of Madison’s K-9 Unit. The K-9 unit never has found drugs at either Applewood Self Storage facility. However, other storage facilities haven’t fared as well.
“A couple of storage facilities have asked me to come in and do a check randomly,” Boyd said.
On one occasion, officers were walking through a facility, and K-9s alerted them to 30 pounds of marijuana stashed in a storage unit. “They know how to work it,” Boyd said.
Teaming up with local police and K-9 units accomplishes a lot more than just keeping drugs out of storage units. Check out the added benefits that a K-9 presence can make for your facility.
1. Reducing crime.
The only tenants likely to object to a police and K-9 presence at a self-storage facility are those who’ve got something to hide, Zehring said. “If the renters are not storing drug-related items, bombs or bomb-making materials, K-9 training should not be a problem,” he said.
Thanks to efforts like blinking security cameras and spotless grounds in addition to on-site K-9 training, Applewood Self Storage has had “zero thefts in over 11 years,” Wood said. “Customers think it’s pretty cool and appreciate our efforts.”
2. Attracting better tenants.
Once people realize Applewood Self Storage’s commitment to safety and security, renters seek out the facilities, Wood said. “We just don’t get calls from questionable customers, due to our positioning,” he said. In the past decade, his facilities have had to auction off contents from only four units rented by past-due tenants.
3. Chasing off the bad guys.
Wood places K-9 training signs for both the City of Madison and Wisconsin K9 SOS, a team of professional rescuers that also trains at Wood’s facilities, at each entrance and in spots where staff greet customers. The posters are highly visible—designed to generate customer chatter but also to be seen by potential “riff-raff customers” as a strong deterrent, he said.
4. Promoting good customer relations.
Most people appreciate managers who take a proactive approach to crime. When renters know police are on the property regularly, “there’s less fear that someone is going blow up their storage unit or get into an altercation,” Zehring said.
Be clear with tenants that K-9s are there for a “training program” rather than a search program. You don’t want customers worrying that their constitutional rights are being violated, Zehring said. Also, mention in the rental agreement that police “occasionally” use the property for K-9 training so that customers don’t mistakenly think the K-9 and human cops are there to protect their belongings.
5. Staying on top of drug detection.
Drug traffickers might vacuum-seal marijuana or other drugs so that no odor seeps out from storage units, but those efforts won’t fool specially trained K-9 dogs.
It’s illegal for police to enter a tenant’s unit without a search warrant, but police dogs are legally allowed to sniff around outside doors and on walkways. Once a K-9 dog alerts police to possible drugs in a unit, officers then can obtain a warrant.
6. Demonstrating good corporate citizenship.
When tenants and neighboring businesses see posted K-9 signs and police training dogs at your facility, they know you’re not running a business that contributes to problems that can be associated with drug activity, such as prostitution and terrorism.
This approach works for Applewood Self Storage. “We’re not a low-price service provider, yet we’re enjoying the best occupancy levels in the market,” Wood said.