Brookfield could have its first-ever police K-9 unit on the streets by mid-November after the village board signaled support on Aug. 27 for accepting a gift of about $75,000 from the Brookfield Kiwanis Club to start the initiative.
Joy Klang, the president of the Kiwanis Club, approached police about possibly donating the money for a K-9 unit after club officials had decided to dissolve the almost century-old club due to dwindling and aging membership.
The club has funded scholarships, has supported the library and programs for those with disabilities as well as providing Little League and scouting sponsorships for decades through a trust fund created by the sale of the club’s swimming pool, which was located on Brookfield’s south end, to a real estate developer.
Instead of dissolving the club and letting its trust fund go toward Kiwanis projects internationally, said Klang, “We wanted to do something for the village itself.”
“It was really just out of the blue,” said Police Chief James Episcopo. “Joy said they were disbanding the unit and dissolving their assets and wanted to start a K-9 unit for the police department.”
Klang said she initially thought the club might use its funds to purchase body cameras for the police department. But she and fellow club member Mary Carlson then hit upon the K-9 unit as a better alternative, though they soon found that doing so would cost much more than spending $10,000 or so to purchase and train a dog.
Episcopo and Petrak researched the actual expenses for starting a K-9 unit, which included buying and outfitting a 2018 Chevy Tahoe that would serve solely as that team’s vehicle.
The dog and its handler, who has not yet been chosen, will be sent to Shallow Creek Kennels in Pennsylvania for six weeks of training. Episcopo said he would prefer the department to acquire a German shepherd for the K-9 unit.
“There are a lot of moving parts trying to get this together,” said Episcopo.
The vehicle has already been ordered and Shallow Creek Kennels has reserved a spot for the Brookfield unit, Episcopo said, but the vehicle needs to be completely outfitted before the next training class begins on Oct. 1.
The officer will take the dog in the vehicle to the training class and, afterward, will take the dog to and from work in that vehicle. The dog will live with the officer’s family and will have the option of keeping the dog when it’s time for the animal to retire.
Last week, Episcopo issued notice to his officers about the creation of K-9 unit, asking for applicants for the job. In mid-September, the command staff, along with Cook County Sheriff’s Police K-9 officer Eric Roedel and Westchester Deputy Chief Michael O’Hagan, a former K-9 officer, will interview candidates for the job.
“We want to make sure we’re asking the right questions,” Episcopo said.
The person chosen as the department’s K-9 officer will work a regular shift, but will also be on call 24 hours a day to respond to incidents requiring a dog to locate a person or contraband – either in Brookfield or in a surrounding community needing assistance.
That may result in additional overtime for a police department short two officers at the present time, where overtime expense is already an issue – and losing an officer for six weeks’ training isn’t optimal — but according to Episcopo, “the positives outweigh the challenges.”
Annually, Episcopo said the department may budget about $4,500 for dog food, training, insurance and medical care, but said he expects those expenses to come in lower than that.
Episcopo also said he has reached out to Merrick Animal Hospital in Brookfield, and that they’ve shown interest in helping support the K-9 unit by providing routine vaccinations for free and obtaining food at a discount.
In addition to its law-enforcement role, the dog could also play a valuable public relations role for police, Episcopo said, by participating in village events such as block parties, the farmers market, Fourth of July, Project NICE, the Bike Rodeo and Monsters on Mainstreet, among others.
“We’re not talking about starting a program like this just to have a mascot,” Episcopo told the village trustees during a presentation at the Aug. 27 village board meeting. “It’s a police dog first, with police functions.”