By Naomi Hatch
“I saw firsthand the problems we had as far as drugs in our community,” Snowflake-Taylor Police Chief Jerry VanWinkle advised the Snowflake Town Council last week as he recalled growing up in the commu-nity.
He has worked for the town for 22 years and noted, “We have an epidemic and we’re striving to address that the best we can,” but said he felt they were not doing all they could to stop the problem, noting most of the crime is related to drugs. There were 117 narcotic drug related arrests in 2011 and to date in 2012, there have been 89 narcotic drug related arrests.
The chief reminded the council that Officer Jared Leonard was hired a few years ago, coming from an-other agency where he was a certified K-9 officer.
After doing a lot of research, Leonard approached VanWinkle with the idea that he purchase a dog for the department to assist in the detection of drugs.
Leonard made a presentation on his request to purchase, feed and care for the K-9, and in return the town would enter into a lease agreement for $1 a year.
“What I proposed is a program which I know from experience is a program used vastly throughout the country,” said Leonard as he explained that it is a lease agreement with the handler for a K-9.
He spoke with Risk Management officials, who said there would be no additional cost regarding insurance coverage, and he would agree to cover food, housing and other expenses in caring for the dog.
Leonard said that the dog is also able to track, which would help with missing persons in search and res-cue, and it would be available to the school and community for any civic events where the K-9 was requested. “That would be something else we would gain from it, public relations,” he said.
He noted that from Feb. 1 to July 31, 2012, there were 394 arrests of persons dealing, trafficking or in possession of drugs countywide, and they confiscated 395 lbs. of marijuana, 15 lbs. of methamphetamine, 13 lbs. of heroin and 4 lbs. of cocaine, for a total street value of $774,166.
Leonard showed that the upfront cost would be $7,300 to purchase the K-9 and $4,200 for the handler’s course, plus dog food, doghouse kennel, lead/leash/collar/harness and veterinarian bills. His agreement would require the town to pay for the equipment, the annual veterinarian expense and annual certification, which would cost approximately $600. Leonard said that he had talked to Dr. Milton DeSpain, who offered to pro-vide veterinary care for the K-9 at no cost.
The officer said that STPD would receive a portion of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) funds related to the drugs the department confiscated.
Mayor Kelly Willis asked if STPD presently received any of these funds.
Chief VanWinkle noted the council’s recent approval to purchase body cameras with such funding. He said STPD has received approximately $10,000 a year to purchase items that will help fight the war on drugs through its participation in the Major Crimes Apprehension Team (MCAT).
The chief reported that he discussed the lease agreement with Town Attorney Robert Hall and asked the council to approve entering into the lease agreement and starting a K-9 program.
“I’ve seen firsthand the potential,” said Vice Mayor Jason Whiting, recalling that in high school he saw how many students were trying to get rid of drugs when they heard a dog had been brought to the school.
Whiting thanked Officer Leonard for his work on this project and moved to approve the lease agreement and the K-9 program. Councilwoman Bev Kay seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.
With the approval of the K-9 would come the need to purchase a vehicle, and Chief VanWinkle explained that they had budgeted $40,000 for capital improvements for the purpose of purchasing a police vehicle and they were requesting a 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe, two-wheel drive, with the special K-9 build requirements for the K-9 unit be purchased through Defender Supply at a cost of $35,417.25.
Mayor Willis questioned the purchase of a new K-9 unit when they were dependent on one person.
VanWinkle said that the vehicle will be set up for K-9 use, but all equipment such as the back seats will be shipped so the car can be converted to a regular police car when it is no longer used as the K-9 unit.
“I see you have a lot of officers here,” said the mayor.
“We feel very strongly about this program,” said Chief VanWinkle. “The drug problem is at the hub of the other problems we have.”
Willis asked Officer Leonard if the dog was in his possession.
“No,” replied Leonard. “I was awaiting approval.” He then reported he will get the dog named “Smoke” from the training facility upon council approval.
“I think this is a great program. We appreciate your willingness to do this,” said Councilman Chris Brim-hall. “I think this is a great thing to help the kids think twice about what they’re doing. I think it’s great.” He then moved to approve the purchase of the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe.
“I think that’s one of the best programs I’ve heard of and one of the best things we’re doing, and I’d fix it so we want two dogs next year,” said Councilman Tom Poscharsky, who seconded the motion that passed unanimously.
Mayor Willis then stated, “If this was going to be a line item, we would have done that.”
By Naomi Hatch