“We are going to literately take a bite out of crime,” said Curry County Sheriff John Ward, as he outlined the effectiveness of his office’s two new K9 officers.
“The K9 program is a benefit not only to law enforcement and our agency in handling calls in the community, but it is an officer-safety element,” he said. “These dogs are tools for the officers.”
Deputy Joshua Teter handles K9 Axel. The dog is a breed of Belgian Shepard known as a Belgian Malinois, Teter received the dog June 15, following its $11,500 purchase by the Curry County Sheriff’s Office from a company that trains K9s.
Teter has been conducting what officials call critical bonding with the K9 since June. “He just went everywhere with me,” Teter said. “For the first couple of weeks, he didn’t leave my side. He sat with me on the couch and was always giving me hugs and love.”
Teter said he feels confident Axel will be an effective law-enforcement officer by helping deputies with enhanced responses to crimes.
Meantime, Deputy David Vershall is the handler for Stryker, a black Labrador, which will concentrate on narcotic investigations and search and rescues, a critical component, according to Curry County Sheriff’s Reserve Officer and K9 Unit Supervisor Brad Alcorn.
“If we have a tsunami, a flood, or a building collapsed and we have a situation where we are waiting for other resources and rescue components coming from outside the area, we now have a resource to put ahead of that,” Alcorn said.
“And waiting for other resources for hours could mean lives,” Vershall said. “Stryker has the ability to go out immediately and locate people who are alive, trapped or hidden in rubble, the woods, or wherever the incident might be. We can start saving lives, instead of waiting for someone else to come help us.”
Ward said Vershall was hired more than a year ago as a Curry County sheriff’s deputy at a time when the office did not have a K9 program. “Once I decided to start a program, Deputy Vershall approached me about a dog (Stryker) that he used to work with that was FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trained in search and rescue,” Ward said.
“Deputy Vershall said he would purchase the dog if he could work with him. I figured it was a win-win situation and good for our K-9 program, so I agreed. Deputy Vershall purchased Stryker and we had him trained in narcotics detection.”
A key advantage of the K9s, said Vershall, is their much stronger sense of smell. “These dogs are able to smell minute amounts of the odors that they are trained to smell,” Vershall said. “That is something that we could never do and there isn’t any equipment that is made right now that is as effective as the dog’s nose.”
He said K9 Stryker will also be a critical help in easing the serious drug problem in Curry County.
Alcorn said the flow of illegal drugs into and out of the county is directly related to many of the local crimes. “There is clearly evidence between criminal behavior and drug trafficking,” he said. “Now, we have a resource in place that can have a direct impact on narcotics trafficking and that is huge to other crimes, such as property crimes, violent crimes.
“So, as the K9 units bear down on the drug trafficking, other crimes will be solved and that will result in more criminal-suspect arrests.
He said the K9s also will be used to assist the U.S. Coast Guard in apprehending illegal drug shipments at Curry County ports.
Both the dogs and the handlers have received certification training. The K9s are called dual-purpose dogs. Axel is not only trained to find narcotics, but also trained as a protection dog, which Ward and Alcorn said gives deputies an added layer of protection.
“He can do captures,” Ward said, “he can be used as a use of force to protect officers. If someone is resisting officers and not complying after being told to do so, Ward said, the K9 can be used to subdue the suspect.
Alcorn said Curry County is geographically challenged, making it dangerous for deputies during investigations. “We have officers in isolated areas and remote areas who may be waiting for backup, which could be up to an hour, so now we have a resource in place that is a layer of protection to the primary deputy and to the other deputies,” Alcorn said.
“And we have a tool that will go in and search and tell the deputies where that suspect is hiding, so he can’t ambush them.”
Acorn said that once the suspect is located by the K9, deputies can pull the dog back and give directions and commands to the suspect to demand compliance. “It is in a much more controlled manner,” he said. “The police dog will likely reduce the need to use deadly force.”
Ward estimated the cost of the K9 project to be $35,000 to $40,000, which includes the special equipment needed for the dogs and the vehicles they ride in, such as bite suits and cages.
“The county preloaded $50,000 for us to get started sooner than what I expected we would,” he said. “We were going to try to fund this program through donations, and once the dogs are started we would get some asset forfeitures in drug cases and things, plus the funding from donations.
“I don’t think we will use the commissioners’ $50,000. By the time this year is over, I suspect that the program will be paying for itself.”
Ward credits Brookings businessman Dick Wilson for donating $14,000 to the K9 program. “They are worth every penny,” Wilson said. “They are worth two cops, if they use them right.”
Ward said he’ll closely monitor the K9 unit this year. “I would like to get two more dogs for this program,” he said, “because it comes back to officer safety. And it is going to help with our fight against drugs and crime in our county.”