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Police dogs, cocaine win science fair first place for 4th-grader

An ounce of cocaine can fetch as much as $1,300 on the streets of Miami, or a three-year mandatory prison sentence in criminal court.

Or it can help a fourth-grader win first place in the science fair at Coral Gables Preparatory Academy.

In fact, Emma Bartelt's "Drug Sniffing Dogs" project earned her a spot at Saturday's Miami-Dade County Public Schools Elementary Science Fair at Miami Dade College, alongside experiments exploring name-brand battery life and how to make plastic out of milk.

Emma, who was awarded an honorable mention Saturday, couldn't have done it without the help of the Miami-Dade Police Narcotics Bureau, which provided three narcotics detector canines and 28 grams of powder cocaine for her experiment.

"The purpose for this scientific investigation was to find which dog would find the cocaine fastest using it's (sic) sense of smell," Emma, 10, wrote in her abstract.

To pull off her experiment, Emma enlisted the help of her father, Detective Douglas Bartelt, and Detective William Pedraja and Sgt. Samantha Machado, according to her acknowledgments. They provided the dogs: Roger, a springer spaniel; Levi, a golden retriever; and Franky, a retired chocolate Labrador whose penchant for sniffing out pot grow houses is the focus of a pending Fourth Amendment case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

They also provided the cocaine, which is not specifically banned as a material by district science fair rules, according to a district spokesman.

Here's how the project worked:

Put on plastic gloves. Place 28 grams of cocaine in metal box and hide box inside "Room A." Release canine into room and begin timing. Stop timer when canine finds box. Move box into "Room B." Repeat.

"It was kind of my idea, because I wanted to do my dad's job," Emma said Saturday, donning a blue ribbon pinned to a white dress and clutching a science project board beneath her arm.

Emma's mother, Michelle Bartelt, said the experiment was conducted at police facilities and under constant supervision. She said her daughter did not touch the cocaine, and she never had any concerns about the experiment.

"He handled the drugs," she said of her husband. "He's always very meticulous about how he handles drugs."

Detective Bartelt was out of town on a training exercise Monday and unable to answer questions, according to Detective Aida Fina-Milian, a Miami-Dade Police spokeswoman. Fina-Milian said the cocaine in the experiment was a training aid used by the department's canine handlers.

In a statement, school district spokesman John Schuster said the project "fits in with principles of investigation outlined in the handbook" for science projects.

"The student's science project involved a very unusual set of circumstances, including having a parent who is a well-respected police detective with experience in training dogs that sniff for illegal substances. From our understanding, the parent was the only person involved in working directly with the dogs and the hidden substances, which took place at a police training facility."

Emma, he said, documented the search.

So what did Emma learn from the experiment, which showed that Franky, while retired, can still sniff out an ounce of cocaine in a mean time of 43 seconds?

"Hard work pays off."

Police dogs, cocaine win science fair first place for 4th-grader 01/29/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 11:10pm]
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