Last year the Sunnyside Police Department purchased its K-9 dog for several purposes, and Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder believes the officer will prove quite useful in the coming months.
Already the dog has been a useful tool in helping officers make drug-related arrests. The dog may not have been deployed, but he was a deterrent when a couple of suspects discovered he could be.
Radder said there was a short vehicle pursuit one particular evening. When the vehicle finally stopped for officers the driver was questioned regarding controlled substances inside his vehicle.
The driver of the vehicle indicated there weren't any drugs in his vehicle and the officer advised him Officer Helios, the German Shepherd K-9, would be deployed for a walk-around.
"The guy told one of his passengers to give up the marijuana and told the officer where it was concealed," said Radder.
He said another vehicle passing the scene caught the attention of officers and the same scenario followed.
"Meanwhile, Officer Helios rested comfortably in his vehicle," Radder said, stating suspects have a considerable respect for the power of a dog, especially one trained for finding drugs and tracking suspects.
That is one of the many reasons the police department sought approval for a K-9 officers. Radder said he has been to scenes where an officer could be placing his or her own life on the line, following suspects into the unknown.
Officer Joey Glossen, said Radder, had a K-9 he used for the Lower Valley Drug Task Force, and Sunnyside police were able to see the many uses for that dog.
Also, Sunnyside had a K-9 dog of its own several years ago and Radder knew the dog to be useful in sticky situations.
He said he wanted a dog that could be used for both tracking and drug detection purposes. He wanted a trained dog that could go after suspects that choose to hide from police in tight spaces.
Radder said he and several of the Sunnyside Police Department officers were at a scene once where the suspect crawled under a house. The suspect was known to have taken a gun with him under the home.
The chief felt it was a very dangerous situation, "and I thought to myself, 'How crazy is this to have officers crawling under a house for a man with a gun'?"
That is what initiated his search for a K-9 dog.
Radder also sought funding from a variety of sources to pay for the K-9 unit.
"Many of those with whom Sunnyside police come in contact with are less than cooperative, but they have a strong respect for Fido," said Radder.
There are few opportunities throughout the state for K-9 dogs to train and there is a high demand for the training, but Sunnyside is fortunate.
The dog trained last fall with a K-9 unit in Prosser. Radder said Sunnyside is fortunate to have that opportunity because the handler in Prosser is a certified instructor. Currently, the dog is undergoing its final training.
When asked why Sunnyside didn't just use the Prosser K-9 unit, Radder said there have been many occasions when that unit has been requested for assistance. However, that is one unit being utilized by multiple agencies.
He said there was a scenario in which the Prosser K-9 responded to an assistance call after Sunnyside police pursued a suspect to a location near Granger. The Prosser K-9 unit responded, but no later did it arrive before Prosser had to call the unit back because of a homicide in that city.
"Having an additional unit in the Lower Valley is advantageous to the Sunnyside Police Department and other agencies in the area," said Radder.
He envisions the dog will be in high demand in the coming months because of an increased need for K-9 units when law enforcement finds a marijuana crop. Often suspects in those finds flee officers, eliciting foot pursuits through corn fields and forested areas.
"It's a lot easier for a dog to run after the suspects, tracking them with his nose at full-speed than for a full-grown man to run through a corn field," said Radder.
He said Officer Helios will be completely trained in tracking and narcotics detection due in part to high intensity drug trafficking area funding.
"So far, the handler responds to most traffic stops, including his own, while on duty. If an officer suspects a scenario in which drugs are believed to be inside a vehicle the officer can ask the driver and if necessary, the handler will conduct a walk-around with the dog," said Radder.
In this way, he imagines many suspects will either surrender controlled substances to the officers like they have in the past or the drugs will be detected by the dog.
Radder sees it as a win-win for everyone but the suspects.