SANTA ANA – Officers remember when they almost lost a four-legged co-worker in September 1996. The police dog was shot in the shoulder in a SWAT mission about a mile from Centennial Park. Now, newest members of the furry force have bulletproof protection for most of their midsections.
The Santa Ana Police Foundation raised funds to supply the two youngest police dogs in the fleet with high-end bulletproof vests through local businesses. The extra protection gives the department peace of mind when sending the dogs into tactical missions.
Sgt. Mark Kozakowski, supervisor of the canine unit, said that the dogs are an important part of strategic operations because they intimidate suspects more than officers and their senses are much stronger than humans.
“It’s safer for officers to send them in during tactical situations,” he said. “It’s safer for the suspect and safer for everyone around.”
Two Orange County companies helped raised funds to purchase the new vests for the dogs, each costing $895.
Michelle Kerns, operations manager for financial consulting company Deloitte, said that the company participated in Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. During the event, they taught the children marketing and business management lessons by having them create their own business models.
Forty-eight children decided to create an ice cream business, in which they sold about $600 in ice cream to employees at the company. Earlier in the day, the canine unit came and gave a demonstration that persuaded the children to donate their earnings to the Santa Ana Police Foundation, Kerns said.
Securitas, a security company that recently completed emergency training through the foundation, donated the funds for the second vest.
“They asked ‘What can we do to help?’ ” said Bull Cunningham, president of the Santa Ana Police Foundation. He said 90 percent of all vest funds came from donations.
Police dogs have worn vests in the past, but the new vests protect the dog’s chest and vital organs, something older vests did not do, Kozakowski said.
He also said the vests have to be fitted for specific dogs. When choosing which dogs would receive the newest vests, he said they picked the youngest dogs so they would get the most use out of them. The vests usually last about five years, he said.
Kozakowski supervises Puskas, the youngest canine in the six-dog fleet, a Belgian Malinois who came into the department eight months ago.
“We can send the dogs in and they can alert officers to the suspect’s location,” he said. “In the end, the best result is when the suspect surrenders, which is typically what happens with the dogs. There’s no debating with the dog, you can’t say ‘I give up.’ We have more give ups than dog bites.”
Zandor is the second-youngest dog and will receive the second vest, Cunningham said.
The Santa Ana Police Foundation is attempting to raise $25,000 in the next six months to pay for the replacement of two retiring dogs.
Cunningham said the dogs cost about $10,000 each, and the department has to pay about $4,200 per dog for narcotics training.
Exact fundraising plans have not been announced, but Cunningham hopes the money will be raised in time to keep the fleet complete.
By ALYSSA DURANTY/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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