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City considering bringing back K-9 unit

Laguna police detective makes a case for the program, which was disbanded in 2003.

February 20, 2014|By Bryce Alderton
  • Laguna Beach's first K-9 program began in 1988 with "Gero," a German shepherd, who stayed on until he retired in 1996. "Max," another German shepherd succeeded Gero until medical reasons forced him to retire in 2003.
Laguna Beach's first K-9 program began in 1988 with… (Laguna Beach Police…)

A majority of the Laguna Beach City Council have expressed support for restoring police-dog services to help sniff out drugs and locate suspects.

During a January council meeting, a police detective said recent crime trends warrant bringing back the K-9 program, which ended in 2003.

"The drug problem in Laguna Beach is a lot more serious than what the police blotter portrays," Larry Bammer, president of the Laguna Beach Police Employees Assn., told the council. "Many of those cases do not get into the press because of ongoing criminal investigations."

Bammer noted a recent case at Laguna Beach High School, where a campus security officer found two students with heroin.

"[The case] sent shock waves throughout social media, through households, through the school district," Bammer said. "[Drug use] is not uncommon."

The Orange County Sheriff's Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection provide Laguna with police-dog units on an as-needed basis.

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"The problem we have in reaching out to those [agencies] is that unless we have the person in the car, arrested, we don't have the ability to detain those people and wait [15 to 30 minutes]," Bammer said. "I recall a time when a car sat in a tow yard for 24 hours before we could find an Orange County Sheriff's Department K-9 to come in and locate — with a dog — 9 ounces of heroin.

"Having a police K-9 in this town affords the ability to get that person over to the car stop and within minutes know if there are drugs being transported through our town."

The K-9 unit could also help in locating a missing person or lost child, following a fleeing suspect and investigating more extensive narcotics cases, Laguna Beach police Capt. Jason Kravetz said.

But many departments nationwide are having to weigh the costs, Kravetz wrote in a follow-up email.

Expenses, Kravetz said, include court-mandated time for the handler to groom and clean the dog and its pen, as much as eight hours of weekly training, a special police car and food.

K-9 units have been a boon to the nearby Newport Beach Police Department, officers there say.

The city has two Belgian malinois, Jardo and Elko, who live with officers Mike Fletcher and Roland Stucken, respectively.

The dogs help find drugs and alert officers to suspects, Newport Beach police spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella wrote in an email.

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