The Town of Amherst Police Department is working to add a special new member to its ranks: a Blue Heeler/German Shepherd mix named Skye.
The police dog would be a new feature for the small department, and Amherst Town Council on Aug. 10 unanimously approved funding to pursue training Skye.
The dog would have a threefold purpose, according to Officer Luther Rose: detecting illegal drugs, specifically methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin; tracking in cases of missing persons; and helping clear buildings during searches with potential suspects inside.
The cost for the program is about $12,500 in the first year and $8,000 each year thereafter, according to town officials.
The dog was scheduled to begin a six-week training school Aug. 15 and is expected to start being used next month, according to Rose.
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Councilor Janice Wheaton said she is glad the dog can be used in tracking people in rescue missions.
Chief Bobby Shiflett agreed the tracking factor is needed.
“Time is of the essence when you’re looking for somebody,” Shiflett said.
The town has several open complaints from citizens on drug houses in Amherst with no way to effectively police those issues, according to a report to council on bringing in a police dog. An effective tool is consent to search, which can simply be denied by a person suspected of illegal drug activity, and stopping vehicles seen coming and going from a house consistent with drug activity is a best practice, the report states.
A police K-9 would be able to gain probable cause based on odor detection because of its keen sense of smell, according to town police. A majority of all narcotics and criminal enterprise investigations either started due to items found in a search of a vehicle on a traffic stop or numerous traffic stops with searches, the report states.
The town department having its own dog and not having to rely on the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office or another locality would drastically cut down the response time during searches.
In addition to tracking those lost, the police dog could be used in foot pursuits of criminals and escaped prisoners. The report notes an incident where prisoners escaped in town and had residents in a panic as authorities searched for them. In that situation, a county K-9 was unavailable and a town dog could have been used to apprehend those escapees much quicker, according to town police.
Rose owns Skye and is willing to donate her to the police department as its first choice, the report states.
“I think the dog will be beneficial,” Shiflett said. “Even if it saves one life or finds one person, it’s done its job. And the only pay is going to be good food and play time.”