Meet Max, a 2-year-old drug-sniffing black Labrador retriever that the sheriff's office recently bought with $7,000 of drug money.
Max cost $5,500 by himself, and his kennels and other equipment cost an extra $1,500, all money that came from previous forfeitures of cash or property in the drug trade. Florida's strict guidelines for seized drug money only allow agencies to pay for training or unbudgeted, nonrecurring expenses, such as dogs or surveillance equipment, said Detective Lt. John Merchant.
"You can't replace equipment — it has to be a new item," Merchant said. "New surveillance equipment comes out every day — disguised bugs, disguised cameras — and we always try to keep up with that. But, of course, it's not cheap."
In his three weeks on the force, Max has already proved his worth. Merchant estimated that he has found more than $12,000 in suspected drug money in searches leading to 10 arrests.
Max's breed makes him an asset, too. While many people associate German shepherds with police work, Middleton said a black Lab can work unnoticed in the same way a plainclothes officer can.
"He can blend in with a crowd," Middleton said. "They don't associate him with a drug dog."