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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Meth found in the city council room

City authorizes police to look for K-9 grants

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The Glendive Police Department is officially seeking grants to fund the purchase and operation of a K-9 unit after the city council unanimously voted to authorize them to do so at the July 5 council meeting.

The council arrived at their decision after a lengthy discussion with GPD Officer Jonathan Lopez, the officer making the push for the K-9, and other supporters of the idea, including the Sidney Police Department’s K-9 handler Officer Alex Roselles, who presented the council with a demonstration of his dog’s capabilities at the conclusion of the meeting.

While Lopez is proposing the GPD purchase a ‘dual-purpose dog’ — which is a K-9 which performs both drug detection and other duties like suspect or missing person tracking — he once again suggested to the council that the primary reason the GPD could use a K-9 is the ongoing high rate of drug use and trafficking in the area.

“The drug use is not going down,” Lopez said. “And while I don’t expect a K-9 is going to make it completely go away, I think it is going to help us.”

Council members did not necessarily disagree, but some were concerned about both the potential up-front cost to the city and the ongoing cost of maintaining the dog. Kathy McLane, the rural economic development representative for Mid-Rivers Communications, was on hand to let council members know that she is working with Lopez to help identify grants to fund the K-9.

McLane told the council that there are several potential grants to pursue and also noted, when asked, that at least some of those grants are “renewable,” rather than one-time only grants. She also stressed to council members that they were only voting to give the GPD authority to pursue grants, and that they would have a separate vote to take in the future of whether they wanted to accept those grants — and by extension a K-9 unit.

“If you receive the grant, you don’t have to use it, you can turn it back,” McLane said.

Councilman Gerald Reichert led the chorus of council members concerned about both the initial cost to the city and the ongoing cost to the GPD of operating a K-9 unit. 

Reichert questioned whether the city could raise enough funds through grants to purchase not just the dog, but the required associated equipment, like a specially-modified patrol car. (Lopez has previously stated the GPD would likely retrofit an existing patrol car, but Reichert suggested the department needs all “new stuff” to go with the dog, including a “dedicated car.”)

Reichert expressed particular concern about the ongoing cost of maintaining the dog for its entire lifespan.

“I think it would be farfetched to assume a grant is going to cover the cost of this ongoing,” he said.

Roselles, for his part, told the council while the initial start-up cost is high, the benefits far outweigh the up-front costs.

“The equipment part in the vehicle is the major expense, but once you get past that, it’s a breeze,” Roselles said. “Spending the money is hard at first, but if you can get past that, it really pays off.”

Like Lopez, Roselles got the SPD’s K-9 program started by his own initiative about four years ago. He noted he appealed to the Sidney community and put together fundraisers and was able to raise $90,000 within five months, ultimately bringing in $120,000. He had an initial purchase budget of $70,000 for his K-9, but noted that price had included a new patrol car.

As for the ongoing cost after the initial purchase, Roselles told the council they had little to worry about.

“What I can tell you is it’s very, very minimal cost,” he said.

Roselles said he spends about $1,500 to $2,000 a year out of a $7,000 budget to maintain his K-9, which includes food, grooming, veterinary visits and annual certification training for the dog and its handler. He added that if the community plays its cards right, a lot of those costs can also be offset by donations and fundraising.

“A lot of places will donate dog food for a K-9,” Roselles said. “People love K-9’s and they’ll do anything to help you out with the program.”

After Roselles concluded, a couple of city residents also stood up before the council to express their strong support for the K-9 proposal.

“I believe it is an essential thing for the safety of our community,” said Laura Moser, adding “drugs are a problem.”

“I think it would be very beneficial to have that dog available,” added Darren Moser.

Councilman Rhett Coon said the council’s final decision on whether or not to actually get a K-9 would be guided by how much grant money Lopez and McLane are able to secure.

“If they come back and say we’ve got $5,000 in grants, that’s going to make our decision a little tougher. If they’re able to get $150,000 in grants, that’s going to make it a little easier,” Coon said.

Reichert concluded by saying that he is not against the proposal, only trying to safeguard the city’s finances, and adding that if the city does get a K-9, he doesn’t want it done in a halfhearted manner.

“We still have a budget process to go through, and any concerns I or any other members of the council have do not reflect any negativity towards the proposal itself,” he said. “I want to approach this as making this the best K-9 program in Eastern Montana.”

 

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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