Sikeston DPS gets accelerant detection K-9

K9 Sammy and handler Sikeston DPS Sgt. James Whitley (Source: State Farm)
K9 Sammy and handler Sikeston DPS Sgt. James Whitley (Source: State Farm)

SIKESTON, Mo. (KBSI) – The Sikeston Department of Public Safety is getting a nose up on arsonists with a new weapon that has four legs and a super nose to sniff out arson fires.

This special investigator is K9 Sammy is an accelerant detection canine (K-9). Sikeston DPS Sgt. James Whitley partnered with K9 Sammy during a four-week canine training school. The two graduated from Class No. 55 of the program.

This new team of K9 Sammy and Sgt James Whitley will investigate fires throughout the Sikeston region. K9 Sammy is a two-and-a-half-year-old yellow Labrador retriever. She was raised by Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, Florida, to be a guide dog for the blind but her strong work drive did not make her a good guide dog. Instead, she will be serving the residents of Sikeston and surrounding counties.

The program is funded by State Farm. It is available to fire departments and law enforcement agencies across the United States.

The State Farm Arson Dog Program has placed more than 450 dogs in 46 states, three Canadian provinces, and the District of Columbia for 30 years. All arson dog teams are trained by Maine Specialty Dogs and certified by the Maine State Police.

The estimated value of the canine and training made by State Farm is $25,000 per team. The grant from State Farm paid for training for both handler and canine, travel expenses, food and lodging.

Sgt. Whitley and K9 Sammy will be introduced at the Sikeston City Council meeting beginning at 5 p.m. on Monday, May 1 at the Sikeston City Hall located at 105 E. Center Sikeston, MO 63801. Sgt Whitley and K9 Sammy will complete a demonstration of their skills.

An estimated 280,000 intentional fires are reported to U.S. fire departments each year, with associated annual losses of 420 civilian deaths, 1,360 civilian injuries, and $1.3 billion in direct property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association. However, arson is an underreported crime, according to Sikeston DPS.

Accelerant detection canines, commonly called arson dogs, are trained law enforcement dogs that are used to sniff out evidence at fire scenes. These canine work alongside their human handler to identify the cause of home or business fires, assisti in cold crime cases and uncoveri potential evidence in homicides.

“We feel law enforcement officials should have every tool possible to combat this costly — and sometimes deadly — crime,” said Heather Paul, National Arson Dog Program Coordinator for State Farm. “These K-9s enable investigators to do their job more efficiently and effectively. The scope of arson goes beyond impacting insurance companies – it affects the personal and financial well-being of us all. Training dogs to detect accelerants at fire scenes saves time and money in arson investigations.”

There are 95 active and certified teams in North America trained through the State Farm Arson Dog Program. That includes Sgt. Whitley and K9 Sammy.

In 2021, Sikeston had 55 structure fires and more than 70 structure fires in 2022. There are about 15-20 arsons a year for structures and several arsons involving vehicles.

Visit to learn more about the Arson Dog Program.

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