Budget may bite Kent’s bark

Nate Ulrich

Unexpected K-9 loss forces police department to weigh replacement cost

(From left) Kent Police officer Norm Jacobs and Codi sit with officer Jim Ennemoser and Jessy. Jacobs has been partnered with Codi for seven years and while Ennemoser and Jessy have been partnered for five. AMANDA SOWARDS | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Jason Hall

The Kent City Police’s K-9 program is in a “ruff” situation.

Bak, one of the department’s three dogs, unexpectedly died from an infection last month at the age of three. Kent Police Chief Jim Peach said he hasn’t made a decision to get a new dog yet because of the department’s tight budget.

“Most people don’t understand the complexity of running a K-9 program and acquiring another dog,” Peach said. “The issue is budget and time constraints in terms of adequate staffing.”

Peach said a new dog can cost between $3,800 and $5,000. Veterinarian bills and food cost about $1,200 per year for each dog, he said.

Martin Gilliland, Kent Police K-9 administrator and Bak’s former handler, said the department buys European dogs from importers who operate out of Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Dogs from overseas are bred as working dogs, and they’re less likely than their American counterparts to suffer from early hip dysplasia, a degenerative joint disease common in dogs, he said.

Gilliland said he thinks Bak, a German shepherd who came from Holland, should be replaced.

“We’ve been running with three dogs for at least 12 years,” Gilliland said. “I think we ought to stay at that level. We get plenty of work with three dogs, and if we go down to two, you’ll see (a difference).”

Whenever the department gets a new dog, the handler might need up to four or five months to train it, Peach said. During the training, the officer is not on duty full time.

“The significant factor that you can’t put a price tag on is staff and the loss of duty time,” Peach said. “And that to me is more important than a figure of $10,000 or $12,000. That’s what I’m looking at in terms of whether or not to have a dog replaced. If we weren’t having such a difficult financial problem in the city, it wouldn’t be a difficult decision whatsoever.”

Gilliland said the time for training is absolutely necessary.

“During that time period you’re trying to bond with the dog and learn the dog,” he said. “The dog is trying to learn you because he’s going from having a handler from overseas to a different person in the United States, so he’s got to learn all over again what to expect. So during that time period that you’re training with the dogs, you’re doing everything with the dog. You’re spending hours with the dog.”

In 2001, the Kent Police had 45 officers available for service. Now there are only 37, Peach said. Peach said he doesn’t know if the department can afford to lose a full-time officer so a new dog can be trained.

On the other hand, Peach said the decision is difficult because K-9 units are valuable.

“A lot of the officers rely on those dogs especially in crowd control situations,” Gilliland said.

“Tracking is another very important aspect that the dogs have been very successful in. It’s been a big help for the department, and it makes the job for the other officers a lot easier. When we have these dogs, we’re able to clear a lot of cases that probably wouldn’t be able to be cleared without them.”

Kent Police Capt. Jim Goodlet said the K-9 units have found missing children and elderly citizens. They have also led many successful drug searches.

“We have had really productive dog teams, and they are a great assistance in a lot of ways,” Goodlet said. “I can tell you everybody in the department is in favor of getting another dog, but the budget is the main concern.”

Peach said he won’t ask the community for donations to buy a new dog, but the Kent Rotary, the VFW and the Lions Club have raised money for the department in the past.

“There’s a greater demand indeed for having K-9s because there are far more variables that we deal with on a daily basis,” Peach said. “This community, I think, really needs at least three K-9s based on what’s expected of us.”

Peach said he expects to make a decision about the K-9 program within the next two weeks.

Contact public affairs reporter Nate Ulrich at [email protected].