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Stop in the name of the paw

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
July 13, 2018
Rohnert Park hopes to bring back K9 unit program

Heroic moments aren’t just reserved for humans and many working police dogs have proved that point well, detecting a hiding criminal or a child covered by rubble or simply by being a trusted companion. It is these traits and more that make police dogs a valuable addition to an agency and after years without a K9 unit, the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety is interested in eventually reintroducing the program.

Several of Rohnert Park’s neighboring cities already have established K9 units that have proven to be effective with Remo, the Belgian Malinois with the Cotati Police, Basko and several other dogs with Petaluma Police and three with the Santa Rosa Police.

RP wants to follow in these agencies footsteps — or pawprints and eventually establish a new program after having to end it in 2008 when the Great Recession hit.

“We had one for many years, but due to the budget we had to cut it,” said Brian Masterson, chief for the RP Department of Public Safety. 

While creating a K9 unit isn’t one of the costliest programs an agency may have, it still requires a good chunk of change and dog/handler trainers can be expensive. Masterson said the department would look at a variety of funding sources or perhaps use money from the city’s general fund to start the program.

Another source of funds could also be found in community groups who may be willing to donate monies. 

There are also several organizations across the country that work with police agencies in finding a dog and trainer.

The United States Police Canine Association, one of the nation’s largest and oldest police canine organizations, is one such entity that helps departments with their own K9 units and may be a resource that the department of public safety could benefit from.

David Ferland, a retired chief of police based in southern New Hampshire and the executive director of the association, said there are many facets of setting up a K9 unit that they can help with.

“We can do a couple of things, we can provide expertise to the administration and to the agency on what the anticipated costs could be like. We can help locate trainers for the program and we can assist them in waiving the fee for the first year of being with the association (if the agency joins). We can also provide them with at least $1 million in legal aid in case anything goes awry,” Ferland explained.

Ferland says while they don’t provide any startup funding he did say more often than not, communities will help raise money for the cause.

Created in 1971, Ferland says the group has helped a countless number of agencies in establishing a K9 unit.

“I am comfortable in saying we have literally assisted hundreds of thousands of agencies — many patrol dogs… and we get at least 15 calls a day from different agencies asking questions,” Ferland noted.

When asked what Ferland’s favorite K9 unit success story was he quipped that it is almost impossible to choose since all canine’s play a distinctive role in one way or another at their agency.

“That’s like trying to pick your favorite child, it is hard to do. Every dog is important to the community and we’ve lost 24 dogs in the line of duty, so that is a hard question to ask,” Ferland said. “But we do award for technical advancement where the handlers have done a different training technique with the dog that is effective, unique, humane and creative.”

One of the most basic roles a police dog can have is a dual purpose role, meaning they are trained for multiple skills, such as narcotics search and chasing down criminals, all of which can help community safety. 

Remo of the Cotati Police Department with Officer/handler Brian Deaton, is a dual-purpose dog and can detect the scent of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin and can also use his nose to detect human scent for “article retrieval.” The two-year-old pup was trained in Mexico where the department’s trainer is located and trained with Deaton for 10 weeks.

One of Remo’s more notable cases occurred shortly after his training when there was a home invasion in Rohnert park. 

“Six months after training there was a home invasion, the suspects continued on to Cotati and we believed they were going to rob again. We received a tip from a good Samaritan who saw them and Remo was able to find them hiding under a low deck,” Deaton said. “That deck was so low it could have been overlooked, but he notified us by barking. That was a good case for Remo.”

In addition to crime fighting, Remo also serves as a public outreach dog and sometimes attends kids summer camps and the department’s “Coffee with a Cop” event. Ferland says the public outreach aspect of a police dog is a big plus for any agency as it can help foster connectivity between the community and the police department.

“They can spark great conversation between officers and people, they are a great ice breaker… We think 50 percent of people have dogs at home, so people may ask, ‘oh what is your dog’s’ name, what is he trained to do?’ So, having the police dogs can bring the community closer together with the agency,” Ferland said.

Masterson says they do not expect to bring back a K9 unit by this year but may be able to later in 2019.

“We are looking to bring it back, it would be a great public outreach tool,” Masterson said.