With the adoption of its 2018-19 budget later this month, the North Riverside Village Board is giving the go-ahead to spend about $31,000 to create the police department's first K-9 unit.
Such units are, indeed, valuable for investigations, especially ones involving searches, which is the dogs' primary function. The dogs can be trained to located people, items belonging to suspects, weapons and drugs.
The dogs are able to search large areas in shorter amounts of time than humans can, making them not only handy, but helping to save money in terms of officer-hours.
And there's no doubt, the K-9 units are valuable public relations tools. Who doesn't like a highly trained dog, especially one that helps fight crime?
That said, we'd like to make a pitch here for avoiding use of the new K-9 unit as a revenue generator, which is how we've seen K-9s used elsewhere, in addition to the valuable roles they play.
Simply put, we've seen some departments use the dogs this way: Pull someone over for minor traffic infraction and then detain them long enough to call in a K-9 unit to give the vehicle the once over.
K-9 searches of vehicles pulled over for traffic offenses ought not to be routine practice, but undertaken only if there is a very real suspicion that the vehicle is being used in the commission of some sort of crime.
We don't believe the reason North Riverside police would like a K-9 unit is to create a profit center. But we know the kind of pressure that can be put on police to generate revenue when municipal money is tight — like it is now in North Riverside.
The K-9 unit may well turn out to be a valuable investigative tool for North Riverside police; we very much hope it is.