One of the Franklin Police Department’s newest officers already has helped them find drugs hidden in a vehicle.
At a year old, K-9 officer Thor knows how to track the scent of someone fleeing from police, and can find and capture them. He also can lead officers to drugs during a traffic stop.
For Thor, who joined Franklin police last year, training is still a key focus, with lots of repetition and reinforcement because he is a young dog, Officer Tim Coy said.
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But Thor already has shown the department what he is capable of in the actual line of duty. Last week, he signaled that drugs were present during a traffic stop that led police to find the driver had marijuana, which they could have missed without Thor, Coy said.
With an increase in heroin use, more police dogs will help with drug cases, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said.
Coy has spent his 18 years with Franklin police working with dogs. He now leads the police department’s K-9 program and trains officers on how to handle and work with the dogs on a daily basis.
In the past six months, Franklin police expanded their program to three police dogs, so that the department had a dog during the night and the day, covering three of Franklin’s four shifts. And officials continue to look to add more, since the cost of adding a dog is about $15,000, compared to spending about $45,000 to add an additional police officer, McGuinness said.
“I’ve waited a long time for (more police dogs),” Coy said. “It’s not a program with just one dog.”
Across the county, other police departments also are looking to grow their police dog programs.
The sheriff’s office currently has three dogs to cover both day and night shifts for traffic stops or other incidents that require a search, Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Randy Werden said. Officials are considering getting a fourth dog, Werden said.
The Greenwood Police Department has two police dogs. But by the end of 2016, the department will have a total of four, with one on each shift, Assistant Police Chief Matt Fillenwarth said.
Thor is a dual-purpose dog, which means he can be used to track criminals on the run, or sniff out drugs and explosives. Those dogs cost a bit more, but are necessary, Coy said.
Thor and another dual-purpose dog named Stinger each cost $10,000. And training both for six weeks cost $6,000 each, Franklin Deputy Police Chief Chris Tennell said. A single-purpose dog named Pepper, whose job is to sniff and search for drugs, cost the department $8,000. And the three-week training class cost $5,000, Tennell said.
“The cost of bringing an officer on is about $45,000 per year, plus health insurance, pension and equipment,” McGuinness said. “I’m not opposed to additional officers, but bringing on a dog is about a $30,000 difference.”
Police dogs are often brought from overseas after they complete basic obedience training. Then, K-9 officers spend one week bonding with the animal and about a month training them. Each is commanded in foreign languages to make sure only the officer can give commands, Coy said. Coy has had four dogs during his career, one German and three Dutch Shepherds, and he’s had to learn how to speak Czech and Dutch, he said.
Officers also learn how to give the dogs brief physical exams that have to be done every day. The exam is how Coy found cancer on his previous dog, Jary, who died earlier this month. Jary worked with Coy for nearly 10 years before he was diagnosed in 2015 and retired.
Police dogs don’t stay inside or get too much interaction from family members, Coy said. At Coy’s house, Thor stays outside in a kennel unless the temperature is dangerously hot or cold.
Thor’s kennel is covered, and he has water, but keeping him comfortable with the weather is important. If Thor came in every time it rained or snowed or got too hot or cold, Coy would risk the chance he wouldn’t want to cooperate and track in those same conditions while on duty, Coy said.
The dog also goes with Coy everywhere on and off duty. Much of the time at home is spent training, going for walks and a little bit of playing. All types of interaction are important for the relationship between he and Thor, Coy said. But training, such as scent tracking, is a daily routine, Coy said.
The benefit and advantages of police dogs makes the amount of training and daily care they require worth it, Werden said.
“It’s hard to put a value on dogs,” Werden said. “People may size you up as an officer and think, ‘I can take this guy’ or ‘I can outrun this officer.’ But they won’t do that if you have a dog with you. Dogs take the ‘fight’ and the ‘flight’ out of them.”
Too many times for Coy to count, simply having a police dog with him has stopped a suspect from fleeing, Coy said. And just having the dog in the car during a traffic stop can change how people interact with you because they don’t want to deal with the dog, Coy said.
“I don’t know what I would do without a dog. They’re the best partner a person could ever have,” Coy said. “I don’t know what it would be like without one. I don’t know if I could do this without one.”