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Police look to add canine unit

Dog would help apprehend suspects, search for drugs

Sept. 8, 2009

Wauwatosa could be welcoming a new police officer - the four-legged kind - to its ranks next year.

Police officials have asked for $5,000 in the 2010 city budget to help pay for a canine police officer to work the street patrol and narcotics beats.

Grant money would be used to cover most of the $40,000 cost associated with buying the dog and training it and its handler, Capt. Jeff Sutter said. The department has a veterinarian willing to donate his services in maintaining the dog's health.

Having a dog on the force could decrease worker's compensation claims and increase revenues through asset forfeitures.

Often, human officers get hurt during foot chases and when suspects otherwise resist arrest, Sutter said.

"We're expecting to see a decrease in the number of fleeing suspects because, to be honest, everyone is afraid of the dog," he said.

In suspected drug cases, having a canine officer would speed up the search and seizure process. Right now, Wauwatosa has to request assistance from other police departments that have drug-sniffing dogs. Holding up a suspect for too long without actual evidence can hurt law enforcement's case, Sutter said.

Alderman James Krol, a Budget Committee member, said he supports the addition of a canine officer to the Wauwatosa Police Department because of the number of drug-related crimes occurring in the city. Officers are encountering drugs in all manner of cases, including during traffic stops and retail theft investigations, and in the schools.

In the past, the Wauwatosa School District has requested officers use dogs to conduct locker checks. But relying on outside departments can allow the searches to become such a production "that three minutes in the first school, everyone in the city knows what's going on - it ends the surprise factor," Sutter said.

Krol predicted that if the city of Wauwatosa had its own canine officer, it would serve as a deterrent to students who might think of bringing drugs into the schools.

"They won't have knowledge of when the tests take place, and we could do them more often and so they're more random," the alderman said.

Already, Sutter knows of officers hoping to become the dog's handler. To be a handler, an officer must forgo promotions and shift changes and commit to staying with the Wauwatosa Police Department. Police dogs are expected to have a work life of seven to nine years; during that time, the animal lives and works with its handler.

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