The CNMI Division of Customs wants to beef up its K-9 Unit to improve enforcement of local customs regulations with an eye to eventually reopening the Pacific Region Detector Dog Training Center.
Customs director Jose C. Mafnas said they are submitting another request for federal grants that would fund the training of three new K-9 handlers.
He said the cost of sending Customs personnel for K-9 handler training off-island is roughly $25,000 per person, but since they are able to train locally they will only be spending $9,000 per head.
The Customs chief said the local agency could train on-island because of the presence of a K-9 senior instructor, Customs Lt. Jesse Atalig.
“We have rehired Jesse Atalig back and he can maintain our local K9 program and make sure new handlers are trained.”
Mafnas said the grant application will not only ask for $27,000 in training costs for three new handlers but also will ask for operational costs that include funds to pay for the veterinarian services for the K-9 program.
“We’re doing it slowly and we just want to restart the program again. We will focus first on building our local K-9 program and eventually open up for trainees outside the CNMI and reestablish the Pacific Region Detector Dog Training Center,” he said.
The use of drug-detector dogs is an added tool to detect drugs in incoming passengers, luggage, cargoes, and post office packages, complementing manual checks by Customs personnel at ports of entries.
Aside from being used at the Saipan airport, seaport, and the post office, Customs’ drug-detector dogs also assist the Department of Public Safety and other local and federal law enforcement agencies.
The CNMI Customs K9 Unit was idled for over a year since June 2012 due to lack of funds and certified drug-detector dog handlers.
When Gov. Eloy S. Inos brought Mafnas back to Customs, the latter revived the K9 Unit in 2013. A year after the program’s revival, it replaced its three aging dogs with younger ones to further beef up border security. Mafnas said the dogs that were decommissioned were put up for adoption.