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Santa Barbara Co. Sheriff's Office utilizing K-9 to seek out ghost guns

Posted at 11:48 PM, May 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-13 11:27:24-04

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office says it's seeing an increase in the number of ghost guns during searches.

The gun might look similar to any regular weapon, however, it's missing one major piece: the registration to make it legally owned.

You probably have heard of K-9's trained for narcotics and search and rescue missions, but K-9 Zeke and his handler Deputy Shane Moore are trained in something different.

Zeke is the only K-9 in the tri-county area that can now sniff out weapons like ghost guns.

"Zeke is trained to alert on what we call polymer 80's which is the grip part of the handgun, he's also trained to alert on the steel, the slides, and the ammunition we use for firearms," Deputy Moore said.

Deputy Moore says this odor is even harder to detect than drugs or explosives.

The pair's recent graduation from detection school comes at a time when the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office says they're seeing a rise in the number of ghost guns being confiscated during searches.

"In 2020, we had 21 ghost guns found throughout the year and that's a pretty significant number considering the two years proceeding, the numbers were five each," Raquel Zick, Public Information Officer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office, said.

Zick says people can buy a gun that's about 80% complete online and then put the rest of the gun together themselves. What makes the gun a ghost gun isn't necessarily the parts in the gun, however — it's actually what's left out.

"Before you assemble it, you're supposed to notify the Department of Justice and have a serialized number to make that gun officially registered to you — that's the portion of the process that's being skipped. These guns are becoming complete, fully made and out on our streets and they're not being tracked," Zick explained.

So how quickly can Zeke find one of these weapons? We hid one in the shrubbery at El Capitan State Beach. Zeke was able to find the weapon in under a minute.

zeke searching.PNG

The department is now hopeful these skills will help them stay ahead as criminal activity evolves.

"I grew up here. I know the people of the community and being able to contribute like this is a benefit to the community, the department, and his special training is just going to make everybody safer," Deputy Moore said.

The Sheriff's Office says so far this year they have confiscated three ghost guns in Santa Barbara County, but that number does not include additional ghost guns found by deputies that are now a part of federal cases.

We reached out to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office to see their statistics on finding these types of weapons. A spokesperson for the department says they come across ghost guns from time to time in criminal investigations, but they don't track the seizures in a database.