A Call For K-9s, Pt. 2: Why the Tippecanoe Co. Sheriff discontinued the K-9 unit

(WLFI)
(WLFI)

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) – After years of being the only K-9 unit in the area, the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office no longer has one as of last spring. In Part 2 of Special Report: A Call For K-9s, News 18 finds out why.

“There was a lot of, literally, blood, sweat and tears that went into building a program that is just no longer,” said former Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Supervisor Jason Huber.

In the 1980s, the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office wasn’t just one of the big dogs.

“We were the only show in town,” Huber said.

When it came to K-9s, anyway. But that reputation changed about a year after Sheriff Barry Richard took office.

“That’s when we went into a manpower crunch,” said Richard. “Where we’ve had, you know, several of our deputies retire, resign.”

Huber recently retired after 20 years with the sheriff’s office. Now, he’s head of the Department of Community Corrections.

“Did you ever talk to the sheriff about getting the K-9 unit back up?” News 18’s Kayla Sullivan asked.

“When we had conversations about it, it was pretty clear that his desire was that if we needed a dog, that there are agencies in the area that could assist us,” said Huber. “And that they could call for those and that wasn’t going to be a priority at the time.”

News 18 got a similar answer from Richard.

“Obviously, the road patrol and the different shifts are the priority,” said Richard. “Not saying anything less, or mitigate the importance of K-9, because the resources in our community with the other departments having K-9, we’ve all worked good together.”

News 18 uncovered this email to Richard from former Community Corrections Director Dave Heath. Here is what it said in its entirety:

“It is now five times that our K-9 has been asked to assist your department with the apprehension of Dale Sanders. I’m not sure who is gathering the ‘intelligence’ but in the future, since you have chosen not to have a K-9 program, please wait until you have located him, and have determined that there is a need for a K-9, before calling our K-9. And NO, we will not run our dog through the woods in 90-degree heat because someone thinks he ‘may’ be in there.

We only have one dog and it was purchased and trained to benefit Community Corrections. I realize that your intention is to ‘use other departments resources’ in lieu of a K-9 program, but you must understand that our resources are limited and we do not have a budget for overtime. I’m quite certain that if I needed a detective and took it upon myself to call one of yours out from home, it wouldn’t be viewed as something that you would approve of.

If you need a K-9 for the day-to-day benefit that a K-9 officer provides, then you need to get your own. I’ve told out K-9 officer that in the case of an emergency where there is imminent danger to an officer or member of the public, he does not need to seek permission to respond when requested. However, unless it is an emergency, we do not have the luxury of supplying your department with a K-9 simply because you choose not to have one.”

However, Richard said his department brings a lot to the table.

“We oversee the bomb squad, we have a SWAT team, a special response team, we have the dive team, we have a lot of specialties other departments don’t have,” Richard said.

News 18 asked how often resources are exchanged between departments.

“It’s not like on a regular basis or it’s not like every week or every month,” said Richard. “But on the occasion, that one is needed.”

According to other departments, within the last year-and-a-half, the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office has received the following assistance: West Lafayette police 27 times, Community Corrections 24 calls, Purdue University 17 assists, and Lafayette police nine times. That’s not including K-9 demos and school sweeps within county jurisdiction.

“That’s over time. That’s maintenance on their cars, that’s gas expenses,” said Huber. “That’s a lot of time commitment that they’re having to allocate basically out of the kindness of their hearts.”

Huber said, like Heath, he has no problem helping when there’s an emergency or when a call regards someone’s safety.

“But we may have to turn down a request for what I refer to as routine calls of searches of vehicles, residents, or parcel or something like that,” said Huber.

Sheriff Richard said his decision to discontinue the program has nothing to do with money. In fact, he’s basically doubled the commissary account since taking office. Prosecutor Patrick Harrington has even offered to pay for a K-9. His decision is all about manpower.

“It takes that one person, you know, one more off the shift and we’re really shorter now than we should be,” said Richard.

Huber said, “I guess I would respectfully disagree. I probably would contradict and say it adds an asset to the road.”

Richard argues training and shorter shifts due to dog maintenance takes deputies off the road.

But Huber said the time away for training and maintenance is far less than the benefits of a K-9 unit.

News 18 took the question to the public; after all, it is concerning tax dollars.

Do you think that the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office should have a K-9 unit? News 18 asked community members.

“No, I don’t,” responded James Rogerson. “I think their budget is already way too high. They’ve got new vehicles, everything state-of-the-art already. They don’t really need a K-9 unit, all of the other branches have K-9 units. They can use theirs if need be.”

However, resident Cero Russell disagreed.

“That’s not right,” said Russell. “You have the resources to have a K-9 unit, you say you don’t have enough officers — get K-9 officers and I guarantee if you ask half these officers, they’d love to have a dog.”

Huber said he knows several people working at the sheriff’s office right now who would be more than willing to take on the responsibility. But ultimately, it’s up to the sheriff.

“It’s a big commitment,” said Richard. “And once we are back up to full speed and our manpower on our shifts, then detectives, K-9, traffic, all those other divisions within our department will be filled and get us to where we need to be to best serve the community.”

Sheriff Richard said his five-year plan, yet to be approved by the county, should help with the manpower issue.