Orange County Sheriff's Department K9 Mercy helps keep jails free of contraband

By Jessica Peralta

Mercy sits excitedly next to her find, ears pointed high and large, dark expressive eyes eagerly awaiting her prize.

Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Jennifer Cole walks over, makes sure Mercy is confident in her decision, and hands over the K9’s reason for working – a foot-long, tan-colored jute toy.

“For her, it’s just a game of hide-and-seek,” said Cole, standing next to Mercy at the OCSD’s Central Men’s Jail, where the 65-pound, 3-year-old, female Belgian Malinois/German shepherd performs part of her daily duties. “She knows when she finds that particular odor, she gets her toy.”

Mercy, a K9 drug detection dog with the OCSD, sniffs the mail before it is delivered to jail inmates.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

A big part of what Cole and Mercy do at the Central Men’s and Women’s Jails is searching incoming mail for contraband. Mercy, who has been working at the jails alongside Cole for the past year and a half, is trained to detect all levels of narcotics, as well as media, including cell phones, hard drives, and micro SD cards.

“We definitely don’t want them having cell phones,” Cole said of the inmates.

Mail is a popular form of transporting contraband to inmates from the outside world. In September alone, Mercy had a personal record of 42 different narcotics finds (she had 32 in October). And Mercy’s jurisdiction is not limited to mail. She and Cole also participate in random cell checks. Recently, Mercy detected 10 grams of heroin inside one of the cells.

Mercy with a haul of drugs she found when the OCSD recently assisted the Department of Justice on a house search in Santa Ana. The 143 grams of heroin, 17.8 ounces of meth, 3-pound brick of meth, and 195 grams of cocaine/fentanyl was by far Mercy’s biggest find ever. Photo courtesy of OCSD Deputy Jennifer Cole

“In the jails, that’s a huge amount,” Cole said. “She’s done really well.”

Mercy’s stats certainly support that.

Since Cole and Mercy have been working the jails together, they’ve had 761 deployments and 284 narcotic finds and investigations.

Some of their significant in-custody finds include 7 grams of meth in legal mail, a syringe in an inmate’s cell, 0.33 grams of meth hidden in an inmate’s mattress, 1.36 grams of meth, 4 Suboxone strips, tobacco, matches, and smoking paper in legal mail, and a meth pipe and lighter in an inmate’s cell.

OCSD Deputy Jennifer Cole plays with her K9 partner, Mercy, who helps locate drugs in county jails.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

They also recently assisted the Department of Justice on a search warrant on a house in Santa Ana, where Mercy located 143 grams of heroin, 17.8 ounces of meth, a 3-pound brick of meth, and 195 grams of cocaine/fentanyl.

On this particular day, Mercy finds a few envelopes that may potentially hold contraband. Methamphetamine is a common narcotic found in the mail, Cole said. Mercy even has detected a meth-soaked greeting card.

Mercy sniffs the mail before it is delivered to inmates.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“They’ll try to do legal mail and try to act like it’s from an attorney,” Cole said.

After Mercy makes her finds, Cole collects the suspicious mail for further investigation. If contraband is found, Cole will look up sender addresses, interview the inmates, and write the reports.

“Almost every day, we get drugs in the mail,” Cole said.

Besides having a keen nose for drugs, Mercy also has an incredible social side. When given permission to be pet, Mercy trots right up to give new friends a good sniff and receive some very welcome scratches.

“We love doing demos together,” Cole said about visiting schools. “She loves attention and she loves kids.”

At home, Mercy has Cole’s three young daughters to watch over and a boxer, Halo, to play with.

“They pretty much like to play chase all the time,” Cole said.

OCSD Deputy Jennifer Cole and her K9 partner, Mercy. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

It is with some sadness Cole talks about their time together, because she will be transferring into patrol next year.

Because Mercy is trained to detect media such as cell phones (which, of course, isn’t contraband on patrol), she won’t be transferring with Cole. Mercy will get a new partner and continue her work in the jails. While not ideal, Cole knows Mercy will continue to serve the in-custody detail well.

“Definitely the best partner,” Cole said. “Doesn’t talk back. Loves you unconditionally. … Always wants to play.”