June 28, 2024

First Responders: K-9 Officer Samba & Handler Erica Stamborski

1.5 min read| Published On: June 28th, 2024|

By Cindy Peterson

First Responders: K-9 Officer Samba & Handler Erica Stamborski

1.5 min read| Published On: June 28th, 2024|

Lake County K-9 Team Gets National Recognition for Teen Anti-Vape Mission.

Samba, a two-year old yellow Labrador Retriever, isn’t your ordinary police K-9. She doesn’t catch bad guys. Instead, Samba’s skills are used to sniff out vapes and other controlled substances in schools, a growing concern across the country.

Samba, with her handler, Erica Stamborski, of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office are pioneering a program aimed at ensuring student safety by detecting harmful substances, like nicotine and THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis), found in vape pens.

“I was amazed when we first started in the schools,” Erica says. “She had a nicotine vape and THC vape immediately, like within a minute. It’s incredible how many students are vaping. And when it comes to the THC vapes, sometimes the kids are mixing their own (concentrates) or they’re just getting them from someone else and they don’t really know what’s in them.” 

Samba’s 160-hour training was intensive and tailored specifically to her role. The training sessions began with simple exercises like finding her ball in odor boxes, then progressed to more complex tasks involving nicotine and THC detection.

Since her deployment in March, Samba has been effective in not only detecting vapes but also other substances among students, including paraphernalia and contraband. 

“Within our first month, we had found 15 vapes, a cigar, a couple of THC vapes and marijuana,” Erica says. 

It was a game changer.

Erica’s foray into law enforcement was influenced by personal connections and aspirations to make a difference. Her initial career goal upon joining the Lake County Sheriff’s Office in 2006 was to become a crime scene investigator. 

After 11 years in this role, she transitioned to community engagement, which led her to working with therapy dogs and evolved into her current role as a full-time K-9 handler.

Erica and K-9 Samba travel through multiple schools weekly, focusing efforts on maintaining a safe environment for students by identifying and mitigating risks associated with substance use. Their journey was highlighted in The Wall Street Journal in March 2024. 

“Going into law enforcement was my way of leaving some sort of impact on the world, to have some legacy of doing good for the community,” Erica says. “With Samba and all that we are doing in the schools, I really feel like we are doing just that.” 

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About the Author: Cindy Peterson

Originally from the small town of Berryville, Arkansas, Cindy has become a multimedia specialist in journalism, photography, videography, and video editing. She has a B.S. in Communications from the University of Central Arkansas and produces Style Magazine's Sports Hub Podcast and the Healthy Living Podcast. She also produces for Beacon College’s Telly Award-winning PBS show, “A World of Difference.” When she isn’t working, Cindy loves traveling the National Parks with her husband , Ryan, and son, David, photographing wildlife.

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