By Brandi Makuski
On the heels of announcing plans for a new, single-dog K-9 unit in Stevens Point, city police say they’re now seeking two drug-sniffing dogs.
Citing an uptick in drug arrests locally, and combined with losing out on a federal grant that would have funded a much-needed second drug officer position at SPPD, the department decided to install it’s new K-9 unit with a staff of two.
“It just made sense, given our financial limitations,” said Assistant Police Chief Mike Rottier. “Drugs are a big problem locally—well, all over the country—but when you can’t afford to hire the new officers you need, you have to use whatever opportunities are available to you, and this is one of them.”
The only hiccup, Rottier said, is the initial cost—$50,000 is needed to cover the cost of two dogs, equipment, and training for handlers. After the initial fundraising, Rottier said, the dept. would maintain the program with asset forfeitures.
So far, the department has raised a little under $6,000.
Officers Austin Lee and Jeremiah “J.D.” Ballew have both volunteered to become the department’s first-ever K-9 handlers. They will undergo several weeks of training, with their new partner dogs, this spring at Vohne Liche Kennels in Indiana, the same kennel used by the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office for its own dogs and training.
A change in the department staffing is long overdue, Rottier said, referencing the loss of several positions in 2010, part of a citywide staff reduction in the wake of the 2008 recession. While SPPD regained two of those positions in 2012, Rottier said, “the city keeps growing; the police department hasn’t been.”
The department had been considered for a federal grant, aimed at new positions specializing in areas like narcotics or mental health. But in January, SPPD learned the Dept. of Justice grant, which would have funded some of the $84,000 expense for wages and benefits, was awarded to a different police department in greater need.
While SPPD has several detectives who assist with drug cases, it has only one full-time position dedicated to narcotics. That position works with other drug officers from Plover and the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office, and comprise part of the Central Wisconsin Drug Task Force.
To keep up with demand, Police Chief Martin Skibba said the department will ask the city to fund additional officers in both 2019 and 2020.
Tax-deductible donations can be sent to:
Stevens Point Police Department
Attn: K-9 Officer Fund
933 Michigan Ave.
Stevens Point, Wis., 54481
For more information, or to set up a donation presentation by a group, contact Rottier at firstname.lastname@example.org or (715) 346-1517.