FLINT TWP. — By mid-summer, the township will be served by two canine police officers.
Gunner, the current police dog, has been on duty since 2011 and will need to retire from service in about two years, said Police Chief George Sippert.
The township board approved Chief Sippert’s request to add a second dog to the staff.
“This will allow us to deploy a police canine every day,” Sippert said, noting there is no dog on duty on Gunner’s day’s off.
Several officers expressed interest in becoming a canine handler, Chief Sippert said. Officer Barry Wascher has been selected as the best candidate for the position. He has served the township for two years, has an excellent work record and was recommended by several mas- ter canine trainers from the area, Chief Sippert said.
The department will use funds from the State Drug Forfeiture Reserve Account to cover the $11,500 upfront cost to acquire the dog. That includes $7,500 for the dog payable to K9 Group of Holland and $4000 for Wascher to begin training May 15 at the Oakland Police Academy. He has passed a physical agility test to ensure that he will be up to the task of five weeks of rigorous training to become a handler.
The new dog, to be named by Wascher, will be the fifth service dog since the department started its canine program in 1999.
Flint Township always deploys dual purpose canines trained for patrol work and narcotics detection. All have been German Shepherd’s because of the breed’s proven record of successful law enforcement work, Chief Sippert said. All canine officers including Gunner have proven to be a valuable asset, he said.
Choosing a canine handler also is a process not taken lightly, due to the expense.
“Canine programs, when managed properly, have the potential to be self-funding due to drug enforcement forfeitures,” Chief Sippert said. Adding a new canine officer also means that a patrol car will need to be reconfigured to safely deploy the dog. One of four new patrol cars on order will be configured for that purpose.
Wascher’s 80 hours of handler training is expected to be completed June 16 at which time the new canine officer will join the force.
Trustee Frank Kasle asked what will happen to Gunner when he retires. Chief Sippert said that in past years, the dog has been sold for a minimal fee to its handler to live out its remaining years. They usually don’t live much longer after retirement, probably due to lack of activity, he said.
Trustee Tom Klee asked about the public making contributions to support the dog, such as bringing his required brand of dog food to the police station. Chief Sippert said that monetary donations are preferred to avoid running the risk of the dog getting sick from contaminated food.
He said the department has welcomed other donations for the dogs such as body armor. He also said that at one time the department raised money through donations for a previous dog that needed back surgery.