Canine Cop: Truckee Police beefing up force to help snag drugs

Margaret Moran
Margaret Moran / Sierra Sun

TRUCKEE, Calif. — A new member will soon be joining the ranks of the Truckee Police Department — an officer with four legs, a wagging tail and floppy ears.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday evening, Truckee Town Council gave the department authorization to purchase a dog — most likely a black Labrador retriever — in an effort to enhance community relations.

“This is a time-tested, very traditional law enforcement or public safety tool that’s been around for a very long while,” said Police Chief Adam McGill.

Throughout his presentation to town council, McGill emphasized the department’s dog will not be a “protection dog” — a dog trained in apprehension — but rather a friendly, non-aggressive canine that will create opportunities for positive interactions between police and public.

The dog will initially be trained to detect drugs, which could later be expanded to find missing people, depending on the canine’s talent level, McGill explained.

“This is not the panacea; we don’t expect that we’re going to dramatically reduce or eliminate narcotics or drugs in Truckee, but it is another tool in the toolbox to provide a better service to our community,” he said.

Other uses for the dog may include putting on demonstration displays at schools, organizations and service clubs; and offering assistance to allied agencies, if requested, on a case-by-case basis.

“The great thing about this new employee … (is) there’s no medical, there’s no purse; it’s all good,” McGill said, garnering chuckles from council members. “He or she will be a low cost employee.”

Police dogs typically work for eight years, and based on that time frame, it’s estimated the dog will cost the department a total of $198,243. First-year startup costs are projected at $36,500, which includes purchase of the dog, training for the dog and police officer handler, anticipated salary costs for the handler, refitting of an existing patrol vehicle and general equipment and supplies.

After the first year, annual ongoing costs are estimated at $23,000, which includes food, supplies, vet bills, training costs for the dog and handler, and personnel costs associated with the handler.

“These (expenses) are initially inflated,” McGill told the council. “How much inflated is to be determined, but we’re confident they’re not to exceed cost.”

The primary funding source will be asset forfeiture funds, which are funds acquired from convicted drug dealers that are used for ongoing policing expense. Currently, the account has approximately, $60,000.

Backup funding sources to maintain the program will come first from state Citizens Option for Public Safety (COPS) Program funds, followed by the town’s general fund, where the standard police budget is contained. The last resort would be elimination of the program, which is a fairly easy process, said McGill. In this scenario, the dog would be sold. The same outcome would apply when the dog retires, McGill said, likely being sold to the handler for $1.

The target start date for full implementation is Nov. 1, 2013, McGill said.

New camera system

In related action Tuesday, town council unanimously approved the police department’s use of $160,000 in built-up state COPS funds, half of which will go toward a new officer camera system.

Currently, TPD uses a 12-year-old in-car camera system, featuring stationary cameras with line of sight limited to a patrol vehicle’s headlights, and only a 50-foot vehicle audio range, which becomes an issue should the officer step out of the vehicle and go beyond that range, explained Detective Sgt. Jason Litchie.

“The system, when it was created and put out, was excellent, but it’s been eclipsed by new technology,” he said.

The department is interested in purchasing Taser’s Axon Flex, a body camera that provides the officer’s point of view with different upper-body (shoulder or above) mounting options, unlimited audio range, and human-eye vision.

The department plans to purchase 28 cameras — which includes spares and replacements — along with video storage for an estimated three-year cost of $81,000, McGill said. The current system, which would cost approximately $134,000 over three years, will be done away with.

In a follow-up interview, Litchie said he hopes the new camera system will be operational as soon as possible.

The remaining $79,000 in COPS funds will be divided among safety supplies/equipment, community outreach, safety equipment for the department’s volunteer program, state mandated training, supplies for its boat patrol program, equipment for the underwater dive team and awareness traffic safety campaigns.

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