Small Town K9 Program

While many administrators throughout American policing are being tasked with providing leveled services in the face of budget cuts, some agencies are finding ways to get creative to ensure that specific cuts are avoided.

Budget Cuts

It may be easy to look at a budget and focus on specific line items that appear easy to cut. While staring down the barrel of budget cuts, the “easiest” areas to cut from are most often specialty units and training. I would argue that these are the worst areas to try to cut money from.

We are in a time where we are rebuilding relationships between the communities and police that have needed repair in recent years. Specialties, such as a K9 Unit, provide a great icebreaker for a member of the community to spark a conversation with a police officer.

In Service

Beyond serving as a conversation piece, K9 programs have long been one of the greatest resources that a police department can have. With noses that work hundreds of thousands of times better than their human partners, police dogs have the ability to track suspects, locate missing persons, clear a building significantly faster than even a team of officers, and locate very small amounts of narcotics or firearms.

For a long time it was often just the bigger departments that have had a K9 Unit. In recent years, private funding has been the primary way for many smaller agencies to either start up, or maintain a K9 program. Some of that money has come in the way of grants, while others come through private donations and fundraising.

The Town of Hadley, Mass. is no different. Even before my days as an academy recruit, I had long-term goals of becoming a K9 handler. Working for a small department, the chief and I worked to begin a program through private funding, and had donations lined up.

Launching the K9 Unit

However, we were able to secure a grant for $25,000 as a startup to a K9 program. We were lucky to be the second department to secure the grant in Western Massachusetts.

Many other agencies in the area have been able to get a K9 program off the ground in the same fashion. The only downfall with receiving such generosity to start the program is that grant funding will eventually run out. During budget cuts, how is it possible to turn to a town and ask for money to fund a program that was accepted because it would never impact the budget? In asking that question, it puts many K9 handlers in a position to have to continue to sell the program and its success to raise money to continue doing what they love, and providing this service to the communities they serve.

Police K9s are an invaluable tool. While funding can be difficult, they are an invaluable resource. (Photo of K9 Mako, courtesy Jim McNeff)

With our K9 program in Hadley we have been able to remain a “ghost,” if you will, to the department budget. When the program started we were given a two-year old cruiser that was in good condition, to convert it into a cruiser that K9 Nomar and I could use.

Four and a half years later, we are now in a position where we will need a new cruiser in the near future to keep the program going.

Obstacles

We are facing the same dilemma that many programs will eventually face. Should we invest the money into buying a new cruiser to keep the program going? Nomar is not yet six-years of age, and has a lot of work left in him. Our program is approaching five-years since its inception, which was the minimum timeframe agreed upon to run the program to secure the grant money we received.

A new cruiser would give this program a new life, and allow for planning well into the future. We have watched other local agencies run fundraising efforts to do exactly what we are doing now.

Benefits

Our agency has seen the benefits to having a K9 program. We have located suspects, found lost hikers, and located people threatening suicide. Moreover, we have assisted narcotics investigations, and found evidence that suspects were trying to discard. We have also taken part in countless community activities, and events at schools.

Getting Creative

At this time, we face the same issue that many small agencies are facing. Getting creative to continue funding a program that has significant value to the town, the department, and also to the working dog involved. While it may appear burdensome to have to raise funds to keep a function of the agency going, what we see is that there is a tremendous connection between the department and the community. Members of the public are turning out to support the cause as best they can.

While these ways of funding an agency’s needs may not be ideal, they have become reality. It has always been this way. Fundraising is used to fund private entities. Look at the Girl Scouts and their sale of cookies, or the Salvation Army ringing bells at every mall across America during Christmas. Efforts similar to these, as well as crowd-funding platforms, such as GoFundMe, give great means to small agencies in need of funding. Social media has been huge for us personally to this point in our efforts to raise money.

What would you say is the most effective way for the public sector to raise funds through private donation? Is this the way of the future to continue funding projects such as this? Are there any issues that you think could arise during a fundraising effort like this?

– Sergeant Doug Costa, Hadley Police Department, Massachusetts