As Snohomish tries to cut costs, a police dog may have to go

SNOHOMISH — A hardworking Snohomish police officer may soon lose her job, even though she doesn’t draw a paycheck.

Dixie, a dog trained to detect illegal drugs, is one of more than a dozen cuts the city is mulling tonight to keep its budget in the black.

“When I put on my uniform, she knows it’s time to go to work,” said Sgt. Jeffrey Shelton, Dixie’s handler. “For her to sit at home — that would be devastating.”

Dixie works nights with Shelton, her partner. Her supersensitive nose finds hidden drugs and the dirty cash that sometimes accompanies it.

In her three years as a commissioned officer for Snohomish, Dixie has discovered pounds of drugs and $25,000 in drug money. Dixie’s favorite reward is a gnaw at her most treasured toy — a length of hydraulic hose — but she still costs the city about $16,000 a year. That money goes toward vet care, food, grooming, and kennel and training costs for the 7-year-old shepherd-collie mix, Shelton said.

He estimates she has at least three years left to work. Dixie is one of two police dogs on the force.

Shelton doesn’t want to see any of his fellow officers lose their jobs, but Dixie’s his partner and an integral part of the force with a unique skill, he said.

“She is phenomenal,” he said. “Very fast. She’s got a great nose on her.”

Snohomish city manager Larry Bauman is recommending the City Council approve a total of about $180,000 in cuts, including Dixie and a Snohomish patrol officer hired last fall.

The city also is considering selling surplus city vehicles and doing some work in-house instead of hiring specialists. The city is even considering using postcards for public mailings instead of sending materials in envelopes.

The national recession is pummeling the city, which has already cut nearly $900,000 from this year’s $8.1 million general fund budget and laid off employees. The general fund pays for basics such as city employee salaries, city vehicles, training, supplies and equipment.

“We are looking under every rock to see if we can find some savings,” Bauman said.

The police department has already lost two officer positions, three cadets, a part-time domestic violence victims’ advocate and five patrol cars, Snohomish Police Chief John Turner said.

The police guild also worked with the city to reduce overtime costs, he said.

Turner doesn’t want to see Dixie go, but there are few cuts left to make.

He’d like to keep his newest hire, a “crackerjack” of an officer. The city has applied for a grant to pay for three officers, but the competition for that money is stiff, he said.

The other police dog, Kizar, is a German shepherd trained to track fleeing criminals and the weapons they chuck, as well as the occasional lost child. The city plans to keep him for now.

Kizar is a younger dog with more years left to serve, Turner said. Different agencies work together to share police dogs and countywide there’s more of a need for Kizar’s skills.

Many area police forces use dogs, including Arlington, Monroe and Marysville. There are no other plans to cut dogs, though. “Our K-9 program, with two tracking and one narcotics K-9, is an integral part of our enforcement operations, and there are no plans to cut the program at this time,” Marysville police Cmdr. Robb Lamoureux said.

In Lynnwood, police dogs do double duty, detecting drugs and tracking criminals.

Everett police have five dogs on the force. Four track and one finds illegal drugs. The department is adding another dog that can sniff out narcotics, said Sgt. Robert Goetz, a spokesman for the department. The dogs can track suspects or sniff out drugs using abilities that their handlers don’t have, he said.

“They are a tool, a great law enforcement tool to help keep the community safe,” Goetz said.

If the City Council passes Dixie a pink slip, she’ll be sold to her handler for $1, Turner said.

“The dog would be turned back to the handler,” Turner said. “It’s a part of the handler’s family. We respect and value that.”

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, dsmith@heraldnet.com.

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