County takes bite out of crime

bbashioum@demo-mo.comNovember 29, 2013 

Cpl. Nick Sack shares a moment with his new K-9 unit, Loki, a 22-month old German Shepherd. Loki was recently aquired by the Cass County Sheriff’s Office to help fight crime.

BETHANY BASHIOUM/DEMOCRAT MISSOURIAN

Whether it’s sniffing for drugs or apprehending a suspect, two new canine deputies are about to help take a bite out of crime in Cass County.

Loki, a 22-month old German Shepherd, and Champ, a 3-year-old pup of the same breed, received certification this week to become working K-9 deputies for the Cass County Sheriff’s Office.

Their handlers, Cpl. Nick Sack and Deputy Steve Valentich, have spent the last five weeks training with the canines. The deputies also had to undergo a testing process to receive the dogs.

Sack said the dogs have been in training to become working dogs for their whole life up to this point.

“The started receiving law enforcement training for three months straight before we took custody of them,” Sack said. “They got another five weeks of training with us and that was more us learning what they already know.”

The canines were purchased through the Law Enforcement Restitution Fund. State statute requires that the money generated from the fund is used to make investments that can be used to fighting crime.

“Trying to get narcotics off the streets is one of the things,” Sack said.

Along with assisting with criminal apprehension, tracking, article search, and handler protection, the canines can detect the odor of four kinds of narcotics – marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroine.

“When were out getting grams and ounces, with a dog, you’re looking at ounces and pounds,” Valentich said.

Having a K-9 unit on the road can assist deputies find drugs better, the deputies said, but they don’t plan to use the dogs to run them at every traffic stop.

“The dogs are just a tool to help us do the job we were already going to do,” Sack said. “We will use the dog when it’s time to use that tool. If we have reason to believe there are narcotics in somebody’s car, we can use the dog as a tool to help us find the narcotics, that’s what we’ll do.”

The Sheriff’s Office policy also dictates when Sack and Valentich can or can’t use the dogs to apprehend somebody.

“There’s a strict list of things we have to meet to be able to deploy the dog,” Sack said.

Valentich said there could have been many times since he and Sack joined the criminal apprehension unit in 2008 when they could have used the dogs if they had been available.

“It would have been a different story if we would have had these dogs five years ago,” Valentich said.

The dogs are also trained to perform comprehensive article searches.

“I had know idea you could point a dog at a field and he will systematically search the field in a grid pattern and find you the evidence,” Sack said.

Officer safety on the road is also improved with the companionship.

“It’s a deterrent. Having the dog there, with the dog’s presence and barking, a lot of people won’t fight. People are less likely to run from you and less likely to fight you because of the dog’s presence,” Sack said.

He said the sound of barking coming from the patrol vehicle brings a command presence to a scene.

“Suspect and officer injuries will go down because people are more likely to cooperate knowing there is a dog there,” Sack said.

The Sheriff’s Office hasn’t had a K-9 unit since the late-1990s, and the last known dog used in the county retired from Belton almost a decade ago.

Since that time, Cass County has had to rely on Grandview, Lee’s Summit and Bates County for canine assistance.

Both of the canines were imported from Germany and trained at Von Henger Kennels in Kingsville, where other K-9 units from across the Kansas City metropolitan area have received their dogs.

The dogs will be issued their own Cass County Sheriff’s Office badge as they’re also considered to be deputies.

The dogs are trained to work simply for praise from their handlers.

“Everything they do, and all the work that they put in for us, is for our praise,” Sack said. “They’re tracking someone for miles just for us to say ‘Good Boy’ and pet them on the side.”

As part of the responsibility Sack and Valentich have as K-9 handlers, they also have to bring their canines into their homes to live with them.

“The Sheriff’s Office built kennels in our homes and they stay with us 24-7,” Sack said.

The canines and their handlers are responsible for being available for calls around the clock, every day, for all the agencies in, and surrounding, Cass County.

Valentich said bringing the dogs home at the end of a shift has been an adjustment.

“Instead of just going home and sitting with family, you have to feed and walk the dog, clean the kennel, make sure the dog is brushed, and gets his breaks.”

The deputies are also responsible to exercise the dogs.

“Because they’re working dogs, you have to exercise them so they can burn off all their energy,” Sack said.

Loki is still a puppy, but is capable of handling responsibilities of being on the force.

“My dog doesn’t turn 2 until January, so he’s a puppy. That puppy shows until it’s time to go to work,” Sack said. “When it’s time to go to work, the puppy goes away. But at any point in time where we’re not working, he’s jumping around like a puppy.”

The dogs have also shown a sense of personality. The deputies have noticed that Champ is a lot more laid back than Loki.

“Loki’s energy is just through the roof, where Champ just kind of watches the world go by until something happens that he can get involved in or until you tell him to do something,” Valentich said. “Both dogs are polar opposites when they’re not working, but when they both arrive, they both do the exact same job and they both are fantastic.”

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