The Carson City Sheriff’s Office K9 unit took a bite out of training last week.
With the help of several Carson deputies and dispatchers, the dogs were able to practice their tracking, biting and fighting skills with actual decoy targets.
It was the first time the unit used people other than their handlers in their training.
“We have actors who have to follow a script for safety reasons in order to try and replicate scenarios the dogs may see in patrol. This also helps us fix our mistakes in training, so we don’t make them on the streets,” said K9 deputy Brett Bindley. “It ensures the dogs are safer by broadening their experiences and it is fun for the dogs.”
To have these dogs is expensive.
Each dog costs from $10,000-$15,000 to purchase; each handler gets a special vehicle which can cost about $58,000 plus around $3,500 for special inserts for the dogs’ safety; $1,000 for bulletproof vests, a few thousand dollars for dog food; around $250 for a bite suit and the cost of care and maintenance.
To run this unit, the department currently relies on community donations, something Sheriff Ken Furlong wants to change.
“I believe strongly we could go to the community and sufficiently raise the money, however that is not consistent with my management philosophy,” Furlong said. “Law enforcement should not be run by donations.”
Furlong, the sergeant in charge Craig Lowe and other department officials are working to create a five-year budget plan to incorporate the program into the general fund budget for the department.
“It is ridiculous to use donations to fund the unit,” Furlong said. “We don’t use donations so we can put computers on our desks or so dispatch can answer the phones. The dogs are an integral piece of every law enforcement agency across the country and they have the ability to do what man can’t.”
With necessary funding, the handlers can make sure their dogs are performing at the best of their abilities, which keeps the community, the handlers and the dogs safer.
“It would be great to just not have to worry anymore about replenishing or wearing out our equipment,” Lowe said. “Then we don’t have to stress about costs to know we are recognized as a line item takes a lot of worry out of it.”
One concern the unit has is the age of their dogs. Because most of the dogs are around the same age, they will all retire around the same time, meaning it would be a big hit on the unit’s funding if they rely on donations.
“As we achieve full maturity of the program, it is my belief that the K9s are a resource and they should be funded by our budget, especially as the dogs retire,” Furlong said. “It is a fundamental responsibility of the department to provide funds for those replacements.”
Furlong also would like to include in the budget a pension for the dogs as well for when they retire. The K9s are the handler’s pets, the pair spends all their time together, and the department wants to make sure the dog has the pension to keep up with care and maintenance.
“Those other costs must be in the plan,” Furlong said. “These handlers, their dog is assigned to them and go with him and that means it takes a lot of care and maintenance at home.”
The unit consists of four dogs; all four are trained in narcotics, one in tracking and three for patrol functions.
“Every law enforcement agency should have K9s, either for narcotics or other great locating tools,” said K9 deputy Jimmy Surratt. “With all the money and technology to locate bombs and drugs and things, no one can beat a dog. It is safer for the community. No machine can compare to it, I think the dogs are the best tools law enforcement has, whether it is bombs, drugs, or bad guys, a properly trained K9 is invaluable.”
“What people need to understand is that this is not just about the cost of a dog,” Furlong added. “They aren’t just dogs in a truck; they are the partner of that officer.”
These dogs are also unique in the fact they are trained to also be gentle enough to bring into the community. The K9s are the No. 1 requested unit from schools and children’s events because the dogs are able to be around people and children.
“The possibilities of K9s are endless,” said Bindley. “In the drug world, people are learning advanced ways to hide narcotics from police but they can’t hide them from the dogs. And they are a common bridge that we can build a demographic with the public that can take police years to develop.”
Bindley said he has seen the dogs go into impoverished neighborhoods and go up to groups of kids, who would normally be afraid of police and build a repertoire with them.
The dogs are not only integrated into the patrol unit, but in SWAT as a tactical deployment and in the schools to make them safer.
“I have witnessed the K9s take the most volatile, dangerous circumstances and create an immediate calm merely from their presence,” Furlong said. “The cost of the dogs is cheap compared to the operational presence and community ties.”
There will not be an immediate impact with the budget however. Furlong doesn’t anticipate the unit’s budget will appear until fiscal year 2018. The K9 unit will be a part of the capital projects section of the budget, but won’t be written into every fiscal year, just when new dogs or equipment will be needed. The fiscal year budget must be approved by the Board of Supervisors each year.
“We need to make sure that those expenses associated with the program like equipment and training and their needs are being met,” Furlong said. “We do not view the K9 unit as a fly by night, this is a piece of the organization, just like our vehicles, our people, our programs. They need to be budgeted for.”
Though they will hopefully be incorporated into the budget, the unit will still need to raise some money to buy more and better training equipment for the dogs, including things like agility courses in order to further hone the dogs’ skills and make them better for the streets.
“The amount of training needed to keep the dogs up to par is crucial,” Lowe said. “The law is evolving so we need to keep our training consistent with that.”
And having more updated equipment will allow the unit to possibly put on events such as an agility competition to bring K9 departments from all over the country to Carson in a competition event to raise money for the unit.
The unit is also selling K9 T-shirts to the community for $20 and they can be bought at the Sheriff’s Office.