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Officer works to bring back K-9 program

Officer Steve Coleman, who joined the Harrison County Sheriff’s Dept. earlier this year, is attempting to resurrect a K-9 program, starting off with a fundraising drive to acquire a new dog at a cost of about $6,500. Coleman, who is seeking donations from businesses as well as individuals, says getting a drug-sniffing dog is the next step in the local war on drugs.
‘Harrison County is one of the top (counties) in the state in (methamphetamine) manufacture and it’s an epidemic,’ Coleman said. ‘We need to do something about it and need the tools to get things done.’
Getting a dog trained in narcotics detection is one of those tools, he said.
‘A criminal thinks a little bit different from when they are stopped by a regular police car versus a K-9 vehicle, especially if they have narcotics in the vehicle or on their person,’ the officer said.
According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, meth lab seizures in Indiana have risen 3,500 percent since 1994. The Indiana State Police estimates that meth lab seizures in Indiana may exceed 1,700 this year alone, a number higher than last year. On average, the state police bust four meth labs per day somewhere in the state.
Coleman said he believes acquiring a dog can be done.
‘I approached Sheriff Deatrick and we talked about it, and he said to get resources and figures and put everything together to see if it could work,’ Coleman said.
Coleman has five years experience working as a K-9 officer, using both a patrol dog and one that could detect narcotics at police departments in Oakland City and Huntingburg. Coleman’s trying to acquire a Labrador that is trained only to sniff out narcotics.
‘Those types of dogs are very passive and good with people,’ he said. ‘They aren’t aggressive and would be good to use in schools.’
The dog would come pre-trained by the North American Police Work Dog Association and would be on patrol with Coleman as well as be available for call-outs when needed and approved by a supervisor. The single-purpose dog would be trained to do vehicle, building and article or luggage searches.
Coleman, who has been with the sheriff’s department full time since July and served as a reserve officer for a year prior to that, said additional costs for upkeep of the dog, such as food and veterinary bills, would be donated or offered at a lower cost.
The sheriff’s department had a K-9 unit ‘ which consisted of two dogs and two officers ‘ several years ago, but it was disbanded in 2004 after it was decided the use of the canines, which Deatrick described as being ‘vicious,’ wasn’t a pressing need.
That same year, the department’s drug dog had been used on active cases only twice, which wasn’t enough to justify the K-9 program’s existence, according to Deatrick.
Deatrick, however, pointed out in a 2004 story in this newspaper that a K-9 unit is ‘worth its weight in gold,’ if it’s properly maintained, he said.
Coleman is optimistic about reaching his goal.
‘I’m going to pursue this until it happens.’
All donations will be deposited into a private account only available to the drug canine program. Balance and purchase information will be available to donating parties.
To donate or for more information, contact the sheriff’s department at 738-2195.