Two local police officers have an added measure of protection in this “dog-eat-dog” world thanks to a nonprofit organization and a local anonymous donor.
Sedalia Police Department K-9 Officers Charlie and Gallo recently each received a ballistic vest capable of stopping a bullet or a stab wound. Charlie, handled by Officer Bill Conner, and Gallo, handled by Officer Travis Lorenz, are drug sniffing dogs used primarily in narcotics search operations by the department. Authorities say they are invaluable in locating illicit substances locally.
“It’s just another tool we have. As proactive as we are in Sedalia, and we are extremely proactive against drugs, there is absolutely no shortage,” said Sedalia Police Cmdr. Larry Ward. “We pretty much take down one dealer and another one at least attempts to come in and take his spot. Ideally, we have a spot for them when all is said and done and that’s in jail.”
K-9 officers can be used in several capacities. Some are used as explosive detection dogs and some are used in locating missing persons or human remains. Some have been trained to locate bedbugs and invasive species. With a sense of smell far more acute than any human being, the dogs can isolate a specific substance with nearly 100 percent accuracy.
While Charlie and Gallo were purchased in Arkansas for $3,000, animals of this type can cost up to $12,000. K-9 handlers spend weeks training with the dogs, who in many cases reside in the officers’ home much like any other pet. Most police dogs retire after 10 years.
“They’re a tool. Obviously they require a lot of maintenance,” Ward said. “For lack of a better word, there is a shelf life on them as to how many years of service you can get effectively and efficiently out of them.”
Donations of the vests come from Vested Interest in K9s Inc. The organization is a 501c (3) charity located in East Taunton, Mass. Its mission is to provide bullet-and stab-resistant vests and other assistance to dogs of law enforcement and related agencies throughout the United States. Each vest is valued at $950 and has a five-year warranty.
The nonprofit was established in 2009 to assist law enforcement agencies with this potentially life-saving body armor for their four-legged officers. Through private and corporate sponsorships, Vested Interest in K9s Inc. has provided more than 930 K9s in 39 states with protective vests since 2009, at a cost of $880,000.
The rest of the funding was donated by a source who wishes to remain anonymous. Ward said he “doesn’t even know who it is.”
Accounts of service dogs date back to the conquest of the Roman Empire. There are records of dogs being used by the French Navy to protect ports as early as the 1300s. Dogs were frequently outfitted with armor during the middle ages. The U.S. Army used K-9 units in the Seminole Indian War of 1835-1842 and in the Civil War as messengers and sentries. In 1907 the New York City Police Department began using dogs in law enforcement.
In most police departments dogs are considered officers of the law and issued badges and bulletproof vests. If a police dog is assaulted or killed, the penalties can be much more severe than if it were an ordinary dog. Police dogs, if killed are in most cases buried with the same honors an officer of the law would receive.