Police dogs do what officers can’t

Police dogs can cost local police and sheriff’s departments thousands of dollars to purchase and thousands more per year to feed, train and keep healthy. But law enforcement officials say the canines are not a luxury and taxpayers get more than a fair return on the investment.

“Bottom line is they can do what we (human officers) can’t do, and they are a whole lot cheaper,” said Monroe police Lt. Brian Curlis.

Police dogs in the area have been making headlines over the past month, including Karson, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois that went missing for nearly two months after escaping from a boarding kennel while his owner, Wilmington Police Officer Jerry Popp, was on vacation. Then there was Gunner, a Middletown Division of Police dog, that was killed when a Madison Twp. barn where his owner, Officer Dennis Jordan, kept him caught fire and burned down.

Police dogs can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000 to purchase and many are paid for with donations. They are used for tracking, drug searches and even looking for missing children. Local officers say their canine partners provide essential skills that even the most well-trained and armed human officer can’t perform.

“Flat out, he can do things we can’t do,” said Hamilton police Officer Casey Johnson.

Johnson is the handler for Flash, the first canine the Hamilton Police Department has owned in about three years. The 3-year-old Belgian Malinois was purchased last year for $8,000 with drug forfeiture funds, and the $6,550 cost of training him also came from drug arrest proceeds.

Curlis recalled an incident where, in the darkness of night, a Monroe police dog found a suspect hiding in the shrubs just a few feet from where he was standing.

“The guy was hiding not five feet away from me,” Curlis said. “It was dark, I couldn’t see him, but the dog knew he was there.”

Monroe police have had five police dogs in the past five years, with the last four ranging in cost from $2,500 to $10,000. They were paid for by donations.

In Fairfield, five dogs have also served on the force in the past 10 years, ranging in purchase and training cost from $4,700 to $13,500. Koda, a Dutch Shepherd, and Cannan, a German shepherd, are currently on the force.

Trenton police have had two police dogs, with it’s current K-9 Vex, a German shepherd, on the job since 2012. The dog with a price tag of $8,000 was purchased with drug seizure and forfeit money and the initial training of $3,000 was funded by donations.

Following the death of Gunner last month, the Middletown Division of Police has just one dog on patrol — Aki, who is partnered with Officer Marco Caito.

“We will have another dog,” said Chief Rodney Muterspaw. “ They are too valuable of an asset. And we have received a lot of donations. But we are still determining what type of dog.”

Dating back to 2006, Middletown police have had five dogs ranging in cost from $6,500 to $8,500. Gunner was purchased for $5,500, which was a discounted rate because the dog before him developed a muscular disorder and had to be retired.

Handlers in some departments, including Middletown, receive a daily payment for the dog’s food shelter and care. That is $4 a day in Middletown.

Veterinary charges for police dogs in Middletown in 2014 were $781.

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office, the area’s largest law enforcement agency, also has the largest K-9 force, with five dogs currently in service. Four are cross-trained for patrol work, which includes drug sniffing and tracking.

A black lab, Tank, is used in the jail to sniff out contraband, including cell phones and tobacco that inmates may try to sneak in.

The initial cost for the dogs at the sheriff’s office is about $17,000, which includes the dog, training and handler training. They typically work 6 to 8 years if they remain healthy, sheriff’s officials said. The K-9 division’s budget for six dogs is $6,700, which includes state certification, training, vet care, equipment and food.

“Our dogs come with what I call the first two years of college when we get them,” said Sgt. Jeff Riegert, of the sheriff’s office. The patrol dogs are Belgian Malinois, which have a higher drive and life expectancy than the traditional German shepherd.

While departments don’t keep specific statistics involving “arrests” made by police dogs, most can remember specific incidents, including missing children who have been found and bank robbers who were tracked.

Then there is the fear factor.

“People will fight with a cop all day long, but you tell them you are going to send in the dog and they come out fast,” Riegert said. “Nobody wants to mess with the dog … Would you?”

But local police say these canines are more than just law enforcement tools, they are partners and members of their family as well

Johnson, who has young children, said Flash is all business when he is at work, but a “good puppy” when he is at home around his family.

He said the Belgian Malinois has a lot of energy and likes to stay active even if it just playing fetch at home.

“It is unbelievable what he can detect and find,” Johnson said, scratching Flash’s head.

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