A group of community leaders approached the city council Tuesday looking for the city's blessing to raise funds and establish a K-9 unit for the Park Rapids Police Department.

Police Chief Jeff Appel presented a proposal to the council, which did not take official action but did state its collective approval of the idea. To establish a K-9 unit within the Park Rapids PD it will take an estimated $70,000 in start-up costs.

Chief Appel was a K-9 officer for the Worthington Police Department from 2001 to 2004 and stated in his presentation a K-9 unit immediately improves police efficiency and effectiveness in tracking for missing persons and tracking for fleeing suspects, searching for evidence in large areas, building searches and scouts of large areas for criminal apprehension, provides another less lethal option, narcotics detection, handler protection, crowd control, and crime prevention.

"Along with the narcotics you're taking cash off the streets that's normally used in the drug trade and forfeitures come with it," Appel said. "The Park Rapids Police Department's mission includes commitment to excellence in serving the community and I honestly feel this is one of the best tools law enforcement can have for a community."

Appel went on to say a K-9 unit enhances public relations and promotes a sense of ownership within the public, a backing the police department depends on to be successful.

He said it also supports a higher level of officer safety, citing the criminal's fear of dogs reduces resistance during apprehension.

Service dogs are used primarily for general patrol, criminal apprehension and searches for narcotics.

Mic Ryan, plant manager at Lamb Weston-RDO, represented the group of community leaders at the council meeting. He said this leadership group looks for ways to improve the community, as employers, and feel the idea of a K-9 unit will do just that.

"Drugs are something we come up against in the workplace at times or we have to deal with the symptoms," he told the council. "When we started learning about this from Jeff (Appel) the things that became clear to us was this is an opportunity to improve officer safety and act as a deterrent to keep drugs out of our community and out of our schools."

The commitment is to raise $70,000 through business contributions and a public capital campaign. 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.

Park Rapids Area Schools have approximately 1,600 students every day, Superintendent Lance Bagstad says a K-9 unit would enhance the outreach the police department already has in the schools.

"I think it is very important to have that communication and relationship with a K-9 unit as a deterrent," Bagstad said. "I think in school they're young and impressionable and if they know that there's a K-9 unit out there in the building I think it would be a great relationship aspect, as well as a deterrent for our young folks."

Bagstad stated the schools are a hub in the community with many parents coming into the buildings every day. "If we can get as much awareness out there that we are supporting the K-9 I think it will be better for all of us."

Bagstad said the school district currently utilizes the Hubbard County K-9 unit for searches in the school and parking lot. He reiterated the visibility of a city canine unit at the school regularly would be an asset.

Pastor Martin Giese of Faithbridge Church also spoke as a member of the leadership group. He said for parishes there is a substantial indirect load administered to families when drugs are a factor in family life. "The entire infrastructure of the family erodes, so speaking for myself and indirectly for the area ministerial I would be strongly in favor of this asset in the community."

"A police K-9 unit would immediately improve the efficiency of the Park Rapids Police Department in interdiction of controlled substances," Appel stated in his presentation. "This would increase public safety in our schools and in the city of Park Rapids as a whole."

Efforts to detect narcotics would include motor vehicle sniffs, school sniffs, search warrant sniffs, assist the Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force, as well as parks and public parking areas.

A police K-9 unit is one of the number one tools available to law enforcement to enhance public relations and promote a sense of ownership from the public into the police department itself.

No timeline for raising the funds to establish the K-9 unit was presented but with the council's blessing the group is moving forward with the capital campaign.

Development approvals

The city council on Tuesday passed three resolutions related to the planned development of an 88-unit senior living facility by Knute Nelson.

The council unanimously approved the preliminary and final plat for the Crystal Brook Addition, along with an amendment to the future land use map, and ordinance establishing zoning for annexed land.

Public utilities are being constructed and the plat meets the requirements of the subdivision ordinance. Deferred assessments totaling $53,737 for the 2001 street and utility improvements and a parkland dedication fee of $3,700 are required to be paid prior to recording the plat.

K1 Developers and Knute Nelson requested R-B zoning for the area on Crocus Hill Street. The land previously fell under township zoning which was eliminated at the time of annexation.

The Planning Commission recommended the council approve the request. The land is 40.76 acres and recently annexed into the city.

Golf cart permits

The city council approved two requests for golf cart permits to Dick Rutherford and Barbara Wheeler Rasmussen.