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Sheriff's Dept. looking for new K-9 officer

Friday, July 21, 2006

There's no extra county funds to provide the Clay County Sheriff's Department with a police dog, but that isn't stopping Deputy Josh Clarke and Sheriff Mike Heaton from trying to acquire one.

"We need a trained police dog in our community. At least 10 times in the past year the department has needed the use of a dog," said Clarke, who will be the handler for the new addition to the department. "Right now we have to rely upon other counties whenever we need a dog. That slows down our response time (up to an hour) in situations where time is crucial."

A highly trained police dog can detect narcotics, perform patrol duties and building searches, track missing persons and fleeing suspects and provide security for law enforcement personnel.

"I want to make sure that everything is in place before we get the dog. We need the proper equipment for the car, proper housing and training for the handler," Heaton said. "We want to ensure the dog's safety."

Implementing a K-9 program is costly at first -- averaging $15,000 -- but can become self-sufficient very quickly in areas where drugs are a problem. A goal of $20,000 has been set to ensure the department can implement the program effectively.

"Once the dog begins to work, the money seized from drug cases and other types of investigations can support the cost of the program," he said. "The recent drug raids in April is proof of how much this community needs an animal trained in drug detection."

Clarke is looking forward to being a handler.

"(The dog and I) will work as a partners, training for a couple of hours every day and then work a full shift," he said. "Of course the dog will be a working officer at the department, a co-worker, but it will also live with me, become a part of my family. I think my wife is as excited about it as I am."

The dogs are highly effective tools in educational seminars used to teach children about the dangers of drug use.

In 1996, the Clay County Sheriff's Department's first K-9 officer, Rocky, joined the force with the support of the community donations. The K-9 officer helped make a record setting methamphetamine bust in Indiana while assisting the FBI a year before his retirement in 2001. But Rocky's favorite part of his job was doing school demos for students, according to Deputy Brian Pierce, who was the dog's handler.

"Rocky had an excellent career fighting bad guys," Pierce said at the time of his partner's death in March 2005. "Rocky was most noted for his love of kids. He really liked teaching kids about drugs and how harmful they are."

Performing drug talks in schools is an exciting aspect of being a police dog handler.

"I really look forward to going to drug talks at the schools. Having a K-9 officer in front of a classroom of children is an attention getter. The sheriff and I can stand up there all day and talk about how bad drugs are. But you bring in a highly trained dog, show them how he works, and then let them play with him afterward, they remember," Clarke said. "Drugs are such an overwhelming issue for everyone, this dog will be a huge asset to the schools, to parents and to the community."

To make sure the highest possible level of training will be available, both Pierce and Heaton, who also helped train Rocky, have agreed to help Clarke train the new K-9 officer when it arrives.

"Deputy Clarke has shown a huge interest and is able to dedicate the time necessary for the dog. It takes a well disciplined officer to train each day, there's a lot of training involved with a police dog. After a while we will have to become very creative to test the dog's skills," Heaton said.

In the future, Clarke hopes there will be more K-9 officers on the force. Heaton shares Clarke's enthusiasm and would like to add three more dogs once the program takes off.

"This dog will be used throughout the county and be made available to other departments," Heaton said. "A dog's sense of smell is (25 times) greater than that of a human. It was explained to me that a human can walk into a room and smell vegetable soup. A dog can walk into that same room and smell every ingredient in the soup. We need that tool in the continuing fight against drugs in our community."

Clarke has applied for four grants to help pay for the new K-9 officer, but it's not enough.

"We don't want to burden the taxpayers or the county budget," he said. "That's why we are asking for donations. Hopefully we will get enough by the end of August to enroll in the last set of training classes for the year, which are scheduled in September. That way we can have the dog at work by the end of the year."

People wanting to support the K-9 program can make a tax deductible donation to the Clay County Sheriff's Department K-9 Fund. Donations can be made in person at the Clay County Justice Center during normal business hours.

People can also make a check out to the Clay County Sheriff's Department K-9 Fund and send it to Deputy Josh Clarke at the Clay County Sheriff's Department, 611 E. Jackson St., Brazil, IN 47834.

How you can help:

The Clay County Sheriff's Department is asking for community donations to purchase a police dog.

Please make tax deductible donations to the:

Clay County Sheriff's Department K-9 Fund/c.o. Deputy Josh Clarke

Clay County Sheriff's Department

611 E. Jackson St.

Brazil, Ind. 47834

All proceeds collected will support only the K-9 fund.

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