Routt County Sheriff’s Office secures funding for K-9 unit
Steamboat Springs — The Routt County Sheriff’s Office hopes its newest recruit will help deputies sniff out narcotics and search for missing people.
The Routt County Board of Commissioners has approved $18,000 to be used in 2015 to launch the Sheriff’s Office’s first K-9 program.
“About 14 months ago, we started looking into the concept of having a K-9 unit,” Undersheriff Ray Birch said. “We did a lot of research, visited other agencies.”
After unsuccessfully lobbying county commissioners for a K-9 program last year, commissioners signed off on the program for 2015.
“They recognize what a valuable resource this would be for the community and the Sheriff’s Office,” Birch said.
Birch said the dog will be trained to search for people as well as narcotics, but not marijuana. The dog also will not be trained to identify explosives.
“We would like to see in the second year a dog that would be for searching and explosives,” Birch said. “We have places where an explosive detection dog would be useful.”
Birch said the dog itself is going to cost $7,500. A deputy already on staff will meet the dog during a five-week training course in Reno, Nevada. That training will cost $4,500. The remainder of the $18,000 budgeted will be used for food, veterinarian expenses, modifications to a patrol car and equipment, including a kennel and possibly a bullet-proof vest for the dog.
The Sheriff’s Office is working with a company called Vigilant Canine Services International.
Deputies in the department have been told about the canine program and have until later this month to apply to be the K-9’s designated deputy. Birch said taking on a K-9 is a big responsibility.
Interested deputies will undergo oral interviews and a physical fitness test during the third week of December.
Policies have been written for the K-9 program, and deputies have been told about the expectations. Among them is that the K-9 will live with the deputy and become part of the deputy’s family. The chosen deputy will receive a pay raise of between 2 and 3 percent for time spent with the dog while off-duty.
Because of the cost to send a deputy to get trained, Birch said the deputy would be required to commit to the program for four years. He said the dog can be retrained to work with a different deputy, if needed.
Birch said he hopes to have the deputy and K-9 attend the training academy in February or March. After that, it will take another four to six months to get the unit certified by the Colorado and National Police Canine Associations.
It is not known what breed of dog the Sheriff’s Office will get, but Birch said it likely will be a German shepherd or a Belgian malinois.
In neighboring Moffat County, the Craig Police Department and Moffat County Sheriff’s Office have K-9 units. The Sheriff’s Office implemented its program in 2004.
Moffat County K-9 deputy Kilo recently helped with the arrest of two individuals suspected of possessing, manufacturing and distributing meth and heroin in Moffat County.
Steamboat Springs Police Department Chief Joel Rae said his department in recent years has discussed the idea of getting a K-9 unit. He said it was a substantial budget item that he did not feel comfortable bringing to the Steamboat Springs City Council.
Birch said the Sheriff’s Office’s K-9 unit could be used to help other local police agencies.
“I think they can be a valuable resource in certain situations,” Rae said. “We look forward to having another resource available close to Steamboat to use if we need it.”
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