If the Grand Blanc Township Police Department is going to the dogs, that’s just fine with Sgt. Matthew Simpson – and his K-9 partner, Jimi. In fact, Simpson thinks it’s good for both the department and the township.
As a way of reaching out to the public and solving crimes, Simpson feels that Jimi and the other dogs that have been a part of the township department are a great asset. Simpson has been with the department since 1997 and has been working with the K-9s since 2001. He recalls Kase, a previous K-9 member of the department who helped bring a gang of Chicago jewel thieves to justice in the Grand Blanc area. The department normally has two dogs and is currently adding a second K-9. Jimi has been with the department since 2013.
When it comes to community relations, Simpson says that “everyone loves dogs,” and they play a great role in reaching out to the public at a time when the police have faced increased pressure from many. He tells the story of a young girl who was dealing with major emotional issues but warmed up as soon as she met Jimi. The dogs are also a great tool for the officers to introduce themselves to the public at parades, schools and public safety events. Jimi even has his own trading cards to share with the public, telling some of his history and warning kids to stay away from drugs. At the police department offices, when Jimi is around, everyone who works there seems to feel more relaxed and comfortable, and his presence makes the day better, Simpson says.
Simpson explains that there has been a generational change in how people perceive police dogs. “In the 1960s all too often, the image was of police dogs attacking people” during demonstrations and protests, he says. Those images have faded, and the new generation sees police dogs in a much more favorable light.
But police dogs aren’t simply a means for reaching out to the public. They are also a major tool to help with the law enforcement work of the township’s police officers. Dogs can now be trained to do a wide variety of tasks, such as bomb detection, search and rescue, serving as companion dogs, aiding traumatized courthouse witnesses and even detecting cancer or other medical issues. Though Jimi is certified and trained in several important aspects of police work, when it comes to fighting crime, the department’s dogs bring two major skills – tracking and drug detection.
Simpson demonstrated Jimi’s skills at both. Out of sight of Jimi, I took a small object, rubbed my hands on it and threw it a good distance from the patrol car. Within moments Jimi located the object and guarded it until the officer approached. Simpson demonstrated Jimi’s drug-finding ability by hiding a small quantity of drugs in the gas cap cover of my car, while Jimi was in the patrol car. In less than 30 seconds Jimi found the hiding place and alerted officers.
Those skills are the result of intense, diligent training for the dogs, Simpson explains. Many of today’s police dogs are bred and trained in Europe. Jimi was brought to Grand Blanc from Czechoslovakia, and as a result, he responds to commands in Czech.
If you want him to sit, don’t use the English word sit. He will respond to the Czech word, which is sedni (pronounced said-nee). If you’d like him to heel, the word is knoze (no-zay). To tell him he’s done a good job, the word is hodny (hoht-nee).
While on duty K-9s are well taken care of. Officers are keenly aware of the dangers of leaving animals in a hot car if the officers are out of the vehicle for an emergency. To make sure dogs are safe, the K-9 police cruiser has a temperature sensor that will tell the officers, via a phone app, when the car is getting too warm and they need to roll down a window to keep the dogs comfortable.
Behind the township police department offices is an agility course, where dogs are trained to go through tight openings, over barriers, through tunnels and into car windows (for rescue situations). That course was created by a Boy Scout working on an Eagle Scout award and reflects the community’s commitment to the K-9 program, Simpson says.
The funds to acquire and support the dogs are normally raised through the township and the police budget. However, since the dogs are such a popular attraction, there are times when the community has come forward with fundraisers to help with the K-9 program. Over the years, funds have been raised to provide equipment like bulletproof vests for the K-9s.
By most estimates, the cost for each dog is about $20,000, though some expenses might go beyond that. When Simpson speaks to township taxpayers, he reminds them that they are the dog’s real owners.
He feels that the investment is a wise one for both the department and the township.