A new fund has been established at Flathead Community Foundation to assist the Sheriff's office in funding a new K9 Program to focus on narcotics detection. The goal is for two canine officers to join the Flathead County Sheriff's Office this summer.
According to Sheriff Brian Heino, the campaign to raise money to purchase two narcotics detection dogs for the department reached its first goal of $5,000 within 24 hours of posting it on Feb. 20th. Heino said he initially planned to raise the money for the dogs and equipment in stages over time, but having witnessed the outpouring of generosity from the community, he said he's now put forward the total $15,000 goal in hopes of raising the entire amount at once.
For two dogs and all the equipment to outfit the, the department estimates a cost of around $20,000 to $25,000 per dog. "It's kind of been exciting," Heino said. "The community reached out to us and told us this is something they support."
The Sheriff's K9's will serve two primary purposes - narcotics interdiction and community outreach. Dogs on duty will respond with their handlers to suspected drug calls and cases to search and identify narcotics in various situations. Based on current call volumes and suspicious incidences deputies encounter, the dogs' drug-detection capabilities likely will be put to use on a nightly basis.
When they aren't responding to drug calls, the dogs will participate in demonstrations and interactions within the community, including visits to schools across the county. Permission from school administrators will also allow deputies to use the dogs to conduct searches of classrooms and lockers to intercept drugs from the county schools.
The department has chosen to recruit two Labrador retrievers, a more approachable breed than the German shepherds or Belgian malanois commonly used by police. In deciding what type of dogs to purchase, Heino and his deputies drew feedback from Kalispell Police K9 Officer Jason Parce, who's spent the last year and a half working with his Belgian malanois, Cairo. They also spoke with military veterans with experience using Labradors in various searches.
According to Heino, deputies Matt Vander Ark and Charles Pesola have led the charge in drumming up support for the program through our Flathead Community Foundation. Based on what the department has raised so far, Vander Ark said they are looking at around $18,000 to $20,000 more to fully fund the new K9 unit.
Excerpts taken from an article in the Daily Inter Lake by Mary Cloud Taylor.