By Bob Uphues
North Riverside trustees indicated during a discussion of the 2018-19 budget on July 5 that they would approve the creation of a police K-9 unit for the first time in the village's history.
Police Chief Deborah Garcia requested the K-9 unit in her department's operating budget. For 2018-19 the cost, including the purchase of the dog, supplies and training would be about $31,000.
"I really do believe police K-9s are a great tool," said Garcia, who took over as chief of police last December. "I honestly believe the dog will pay for itself down the road."
If the village board green-lights the K-9 unit, it would take a couple of weeks to procure the dog and then another six to eight weeks of officer/dog training before the unit would be on the street. Garcia estimated mid- to late-October might be a realistic date, if the expenditure is approved.
The village board has scheduled a public hearing and vote on the appropriations ordinance for the 2018-19 fiscal year on July 23.
In a memo to the village board arguing for the creation of the K-9 unit, Garcia pointed to roughly 100 incidents – from robberies to burglaries to drug arrests – where having a K-9 unit would have been a benefit.
She also said that a K-9 unit may have been brought to any of the roughly 300 traffic stops done by North Riverside officers in 2017 if officers believed items were concealed in vehicles.
"During these stops, a K-9 could be used to recover narcotics, weapons and currency that currently remain undetected," Garcia wrote in her memo.
Garcia argued that a K-9 unit can also be used from time to time to help take suspects into custody.
"Normally the mere presence of the K-9 with a violent or agitated offender can bring compliance," Garcia wrote. "This, in turn, can limit the risk of injuries to the officers, offenders and innocent bystanders."
While the K-9 unit would be scheduled to work the afternoon shift, according to the memo, the dog and its handler would be on call 24 hours a day. The officer responsible for handling the dog has already been identified, Garcia said. The dog would be a German shepherd.
One of the greatest benefits of a K-9 unit, said Garcia is the dog's ability to quickly conduct searches, which will be its primary use.
According to Garcia, "Research shows that a K-9 can search the same amount of space that 10 officers can in a fraction of the time and more effectively."
There were two incidents in North Riverside last year, said Garcia, that highlighted that ability. Both of the calls involved activated burglar alarms at J.C. Penney at the North Riverside Park Mall.
In the first incident, North Riverside called in Forest Park's K-9 unit, which conducted a search and cleared the scene in about 50 minutes, and logged about two-and-a-half hours in total officer time.
In the second incident, where a K-9 wasn't available, police took nearly two hours to complete the search. Officers in that incident logged 8 hours and 23 minutes of total time.
"The K-9 was able to perform the search in just 29 percent of the time that it took the officers on their own," Garcia wrote.
Finally, Garcia said a K-9 unit is a public relations opportunity for the police department. K-9 units often participate in community events, providing demonstrations.
"Demonstrations serve as far more than an educational tool," Garcia wrote. "They also show the community that the police department is doing everything in its power to combat crime."
Of course, there are occasions when K-9 units don't work out. The village of Forest Park recently retired a K-9 after three years of service after two biting incidents.
In 2015, the German shepherd bit a man during a demonstration at an annual grade-school picnic and last summer bit a member of its handler's family.
Forest Park has since replaced that K-9 unit with another dog, a non-aggressive German short-haired pointer that is not trained to apprehend suspects.
The police department has a vehicle it intends on converting for the K-9 unit. Earlier this year, Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. sent a letter to the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus seeking $10,000 in grant funding to outfit the K-9 vehicle with equipment. That request is still pending.