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A fairly routine Columbus City Council item regarding the approval of funds to equip a Columbus Police Department vehicle for K-9 use spurred a lengthier conversation Monday night about how far away the city is from having the officer/dog unit intact.

The answer, Police Charles Sherer said, turns out to be pretty soon.

The invoice for dog expenses has been issued and is being paid, he said, adding the Alabama-based dog vendor has/will soon be traveling to Europe to acquire a variety of dogs that will serve at different law enforcement agencies around the country.

The dogs will be back in the U.S. toward the end of February and then a Columbus representative will travel south to complete the transaction.

“Then when they get back, we will be sending them to the academy in Grand Island for 14 weeks. That academy class is due to start the fourth of March, and we will venture from that point forward,” Sherer said. “Hopefully, we will have the dog in action – if everything goes well – about the first of summer. I would say the end of June, first of July.

Sherer revealed that Officer Santiago Velasquez has been named as the dog’s handler. The hope, Sherer said, is that the station will be able to land its desired K-9, a Belgian Malinois, as previously reported by The Columbus Telegram. The dog will be a dual-purpose dog, he said, noting that the animal will not only use its senses to smell and detect narcotics but also will come in handy for patrol purposes and aid in apprehending fleeing felons and lost or missing persons.

The dog and Velasquez will likely work some sort of split shift, the chief said, noting it might be something like a 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift so that the dog is ready to go day and night. The dog, he added, will be available for use in Columbus and Platte County, and that with other legal steps, down the line possibly for other out-of-county departments (that’s still being looked into).

“They become a six-legged team,” he said of dog and handler, and the bond forged. “The officer is trained with commands for the dog, and the dog is trained to obey that particular officer. Let’s say, for instance, that the officer – for whatever reason – would leave, become unemployed or decides he doesn’t want to do this anymore, or maybe gets hurt or injured and can’t work anymore, then we’d have to send another officer back through training with the dog to get them acclimated together.”

Reaching the point of acquiring the dog and jump-starting the K-9 program was a team effort, Ward 2 Council Member Troy Hiemer noted. The City of Columbus put forth approximately $60,000-$65,000 toward dog and program expenses, however, the department was responsible for raising a significant chunk itself. This resulted in several fundraisers and individuals campaigning for the necessary dollars.

“I think it’s important to note that yourself and your officers went out, on their own time, to raise funding for this, and I think that’s well noted,” Hiemer said of Sherer's and CPD’s efforts to bring the program to the forefront.

The chief said he appreciated the council member bringing that up because he wanted to express his gratitude to the entire community for the outpouring of support shown during the duration of the dog-getting process.

“I want to use this platform to thank the entire community for their support,” Sherer said. “Their getting behind us on this project, I think, spoke volumes about their wanting us to put this tool on the street for them. And hopefully, we can be successful in that endeavor.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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