Photo by Carla Waters

Watseka Officer Mark Harris talks to city officials Tuesday night about the possibility of acquiring a police dog for the department.

Watseka police officers are exploring the possibility of getting a police dog.

Police Chief Jeremy Douglas and Officer Mark Harris talked about the possibility with Watseka aldermen Tuesday night at the public safety committee meeting.

“This is just something we want to bring to you guys as a mention. We’re not asking you for a decision tonight,” Douglas said.

He said Harris has been doing a lot of the research on what it would take to have a canine unit for Watseka.

“If this would go through I would hope that Mark would be our canine officer,” he said.

The department has applied for grants that could help offset the cost of a canine unit, he said.

Harris said a canine unit would be “a great tool for the city of Wateska.”

He said while the dog would be helpful in fighting drug crimes, the dog could also be trained to search for missing persons and would be able to be used for visits to schools and other community events.

Douglas said the total startup cost would be about $64,000, which would include $9,500 for the dog and training and about $37,000 for the vehicle. The rest of the money would be for equipment for the dog and or the squad car. Douglas said state law mandates a specific kind of air conditioning unit for a squad car with a canine. There are a few other pieces of equipment that are also necessary to finalize the unit.

Harris said everyone knows that there are drug problems in the area, and a canine would help to alleviate some of those problems.

“I’m not saying a canine is going to completely rid us of that problem, but I believe it would help greatly,” he said.

Mayor John Allhands said he is in favor of the endeavor, noting that the department and some council members have looked at the issue for the past few years.

Watseka had a police dog unit during Chief Mike Van Hoveln’s administration, but has not had one for severe years.

“It’s something we’ve talked about for some time within the department,” Douglas said. “I think this is the time to move forward.”

He said Harris and Lt. Josh King have applied for a couple grants. He said Harris is willing to work on other funding possibilities.

“After the initial start up,” Douglas said, “we are looking at $600 to $800 annually.

“This will be a multi-functioning dog,” he said. “This dog will be used for more than drug sniffing.”

Douglas said the Bradley Police Department and other outside agencies now have to bring their dogs to Watseka when there is a need. Adding a dog to the Watseka department would be helpful, he said.

“Mark is willing to take the lead on this,” Douglas said. “Mark is young. He’s not going anywhere.

“I hear all the time that we have a drug problem. Let’s take a step in the right direction and show them that we are serious about it,” he said.

Allhands said he believes that there are people in the community who would donate to the cause.

“The biggest investments to start with would be the squad,” Douglas said, noting that he is not asking the city council for all the money. He said the officers are willing to do the research and work to get the canine unit but want the council to approve it before they spend a lot of time researching and then find out it isn’t something the council wants to pursue.

Douglas said that the departments that have the canine units want them. “They don’t want to get rid of them or want to retire them,” he said.

The dog would stay with Harris at his house, he said. Harris said he has investigated what would need to be done at his house to accommodate the dog and has already made some of the accommodations possible. The dog would have its own kennel.

The aldermen said that they are in agreement that the issue should be pursued.

Alderman Dennis Cahoe said that he remembers when the last canine was on the department. “The officer that handled him did so very professionally.The dog did a lot of good things at that time. I know that a dog today would probably stay a lot more active,” he said. “I think we need to figure out how we can make this happen, and as soon as possible.”

“I don’t see any downside to this whatsoever,” Alderman Mark Garfield said.

Douglas said that he believes that there are veterinarians would who take care of the dog free of charge, and that there are people who would make sure that the dog food would be supplied for.

Harris said the dog, a German Shepard/Malamute mix, would go through training for one month if it is a single-purpose dog. A multi-purpose dog would go through two months training.

Once the dog is trained, Harris said he has to train with the dog for another month. A standards test has to be passed and then there is certification awarded. After that, he said, eight hours of training a month needs to be completed. Dogs are usual in service six to eight years. Harris would get a dog that is a year or two old.

“I believe this is something the community would get behind,” Alderwoman Monna Ulfers said.

Harris said, “One of the reasons that that I took this job is because I love law enforcement, but I know there are a lot of guys who are going to retire in this department fairly soon, and that will give me an opportunity to move up the ladder and this is one of my initiatives to try and move up. I’m not going anywhere. My wife has a business in town. You don’t have to worry about us taking off and going somewhere else.”

Douglas said they would continue to work on the project and then report back to the aldermen.