The Park Rapids Police Department may soon have a new officer — the canine variety.
To date, a capital campaign drive has raised $61,290 of the necessary $70,000. Funds will be used to purchase a canine, vehicle, training and equipment.
Police Chief Jeff Appel was a K-9 officer for the Worthington Police Department from 2001 to 2004. In his experience, a K-9 unit immediately improves police efficiency and effectiveness in tracking missing persons or fleeing suspects, searching for evidence in large areas, building searches, narcotics detection, handler protection, crowd control and crime prevention.
The Leadership Council, chaired by Mic Ryan and affiliated with the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission, is spearheading the K-9 campaign. It comprises business owners and community leaders. Ryan is operations manager at Lamb Weston/RDO Frozen.
"The Leadership Council chose this as a priority project for the betterment of the community," Ryan explained.
In May 2017, the group asked for the Park Rapids City Council's blessing to raise funds and establish a K-9 unit. They received unanimous support.
Initial fundraising efforts targeted local businesses, subsequently collecting $53,550.
In mid-November, the Leadership Council mailed 540 letters to community members, seeking donations.
"The response has been very good," Ryan said.
Donations are "rolling in," agreed Appel. "It's been amazing to me how quickly the community came together."
A K-9 unit is law enforcement's number one tool for community policing functions, he continued.
Estimated cost of a new vehicle and equipment for a K-9 unit is $50,000; $4,000 for academy handler certification; $8,500 to purchase the dog; and $500 for narcotics training. Annual operating costs include estimated $300 to $500 for veterinary services, $600 for dog food and $100 each for additional certification and trials.
After this fund drive, the city will maintain the K-9 program.
Once the campaign goal has been reached, the city council will have to approve the K-9 program for the police department, Appel explained.
Through an internal process, a K-9 handler will be selected from current Park Rapids Police Officer ranks.
Appel will procure all needed equipment — such as the specialized squad car and dog handling equipment — to make the K-9 program functional.
Lastly, the officer attends a K-9 academy and the dog is purchased through the academy training program. Training takes several months, Appel said.
Contributions to the Park Rapids K-9 Fund may be sent to P. O. Box 25, Park Rapids, MN 56470.