A GLIMPSE OF POLICE WORK

July 23, 2004 11:00 pm
Michael McKinney pretends to be a fugitive on the run from K-9 Robby. (Pilot photo/Bill Lundquist).
Michael McKinney pretends to be a fugitive on the run from K-9 Robby. (Pilot photo/Bill Lundquist).

By BILL LUNDQUIST

Pilot Staff Writer

The Brookings Police Department may not be large, but with the help of new technology, community volunteers, and one highly trained dog, it's definitely taking a bite out of crime.

Participants on Wednesday's Hospitality Tours learned how donations of time and money have been put to use at the police department.

They were treated to demonstrations of the department's new X26 Taser weapon, K-9 unit, and patrol-car video system.

Officer Marvin Parker also explained how various volunteer programs free up officers to respond to more calls.

Most of what the participants saw was obtained not with tax dollars, but through private donations, government grants, and neighbors just wanting to help neighbors, said Parker.

Dog day morning

Most people love dogs, but even those who don't probably enjoyed seeing the department's K-9 unit Robby being put through his paces by his handler, Officer Donny Dotson.

Robby certainly appeared to enjoy chopping onto the protective sleeve worn by "bad guy" Michael McKinney.

"That sleeve is his favorite toy," said Dotson.

Robby's wagging tale confirmed what Dotson said.

McKinney, of course, is not a bad guy at all, but the son of Reserve Officer John McKinney, who started the department's K-9 program in 1990.

Had there been a real bad guy, however, and no sleeve, the outcome would have been the same, only Robby would not have bitten down quite as hard.

Dotson said Robby doesn't always even bother to get up when someone knocks on the door at home.

It's a different story if Robby senses any danger to Dotson. He had Robby lie down about 10 yards from where he and McKinney staged a fake altercation.

Robby watched carefully as McKinney supposedly struck Dotson, but did nothing.

Dotson said McKinney wasn't hitting him hard enough, so Robby knew he wasn't in any real danger.

Finally, he convinced McKinney to give him a solid sock with his padded arm, and Robby, who accelerates like a cheetah, was fastened onto the sleeve in less than a second.

Robby responds just as quickly to Dotson's commands, as long as they are in Dutch.

"We got Robby from Europe," Dotson told the tour participants, "so he speaks Dutch."

"Well, no, he doesn't really speak Dutch," he laughed, "but he understands it."

Dotson said he had to learn to trill his "r"s so Robby could accurately understand his commands.

Dotson said Robby, a Belgian Malinois, was a three and a half year old sporting dog when they found him in The Netherlands.

He was already a Title 3 dog, so it took only three or four weeks to train him for police work.

John McKinney said Belgian Malinois, or Belgian shepherds, are smaller and lighter than German shepherds, but have fewer bone and back problems.

They hold up better during intensive K-9 training and live longer than German shepherds do, sometimes working to 12 years old.

"He's seven years old now," said Dotson, "but he thinks he's three."

Indeed, Robby is rarely still for a second. He chases his tail like any other overgrown puppy, and even jumped straight up into Dotson's arms at one point.

"He's a lover," said Dotson.

That hasn't been much consolation to the criminals Robby has ferreted out of their hiding holes. Robby loves to do what he was trained to do.

His nose also gives him the ability to sniff out several different kinds of illegal drugs. In fact, if Robby shows enough interest in a specific location, it's legal probable cause for a search. Judges have ruled that dogs have no reason to lie.

McKinney said the K-9 program is funded by private donations, even the bulletproof vest that Robby sometimes wears.

Taser Technology

Dotson is not the only officer to enjoy unusual protection, now that the department has new X26 Taser devices.

The "gun" said Lt. John Bishop, shoots out two probes and copper cables. It then fires 50,000 volts into the person the officer is trying to subdue.

"It causes the body to go into a full body Charley horse," said Bishop.

The voltage may be high, but the actual amount of electricity is miniscule, he said, so it causes no lasting harm.

The taser won't burn skin, or affect weak hearts or pacemakers. It has caused no deaths anywhere in the nation.

It was once used on a woman who was eight and a half months pregnant, with no harm to the woman or fetus.

Bishop was quick to add that the department would not use the device in such a manner.

For an officer faced with a person out of his mind on drugs, however, the taser could be a life-saver for both of them.

"In Los Angeles," said Bishop, "it's dropped injuries to officers by 85 percent, and injuries to suspects by 97 percent."

Without the taser, said Parker, officers have to resort to pepper spray or just fighting it out with a steel baton. Both cause more harm to everybody involved.

All those option are only used, said Parker, on people committing crimes of violence on others, or when officers have to protect themselves.

When training to use the taser, officers are also shot with the weapon so they know what it feels like.

The tasers were acquired not with tax dollars, but with grants or trades.

"My boss can watch me"

Thanks to community-minded citizens, the department has recently acquired more up-to-date equipment.

A 2 percent loan from Chetco Federal Credit Union enabled the department to buy five new police cruisers equipped not only with radar, but with video cameras.

"My boss can watch me make a traffic stop," said Parker.

The tapes are kept for at least a month, he said, so if a driver was obviously drunk, or an officer was rude or used inappropriate force, the judge is going to be able to see it.

Having five new cruisers at once, said Bishop, will ensure each one lasts longer and does not quickly go out of warranty. The old cars are handed down to detectives and administration, he said.

"We're being fiscally responsible with the taxpayers' money," he said. The radar and video system was actually purchased with a grant.

The department is also getting new dispatching equipment that will make it possible to locate 9-1-1 calls when they originate from cell phones.

Bishop said the 4,400 9-1-1 calls received last year were a dramatic increase from previous years.

The department also recently obtained a new speed monitor/reader board. It not only tells drivers what speed they are going, it can warn of road problems or describe a kidnapped child.

The mobile unit can also be towed behind the new Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) van.

The van, like so many things that help the police, was donated by a concerned citizen.

People make the difference

New technology helps a lot, said Parker, but citizens are what make the department's community policing philosophy work.

"We're providing service at a level you want, with your help," said Parker.

Providing a lot of that help, he said, is the VIPS program, which trains volunteers and uses them to allow officers to respond to more calls.

Parker said VIPS people help out in the evidence room, help secure crime scenes to protect evidence, and answer questions at public functions.

They distribute literature to help citizens recognize and cope with crime and drug issues.

They teach children traffic safety through the Safety City program, gun safety through the Eddie Eagle program, and provide children with a positive interaction with law enforcement through the McGruff the Crime Dog program.

They save lives by becoming certified child safety seat installers, and by providing free or low cost bike and skateboard helmets.

They win awards, including the Oregon Department of Transportation Safety Award and the Presidential Service Award, and they are always looking for new volunteers to join them.

Crime Stoppers is another privately funded and highly successful program. It pays rewards for information that helps solve crimes.

"Most people with information on crimes need an incentive to rat out their friends and associates," said Parker. "Believe me, it's an effective program."

Those providing the crime tips, and even those donating to fund the program, remain completely anonymous.

Community Watch is a program where neighbors get to know each other better so they know who belongs in their neighborhood and who doesn't.

Parker said Community Watch captains also look in on elderly neighbors to make sure everything is OK.

In the Citizen Police program, citizens are trained to the same proficiency as salaried officers. They act as police reserves.

Norwood in the slammer

Participants also toured the police department's facilities, including the holding cells where people can be held up to two hours before being transported to the Curry County Jail.

Even tour director Jan Norwood got to see what it felt like to be on the wrong side of the bars when they slammed shut.

The facility, built in 1967, has been expanded since 1996, but room sizes are still pretty much "standing room only."

The building houses a dispatch center, administrative offices, records storage, a squad room, a copy room, a finger-printing station, a locker room, an evidence room, a booking cell, a photo board, two detention cells, and offices for VIPS and police reserves.

Oh, and the office Parker calls his "closet."