The Chippewa Falls Police Department is seeking a new member, but this one walks on four paws, barks and is a little furrier than the rest of the team.
Inv. Steve McMahon and Chief Matt Kelm presented to the city’s transportation, construction, public safety and traffic committee on Tuesday a proposal to start a K-9 program.
McMahon said the dog would increase the community’s positive relationship with the department through various events highlighting the K-9, but most importantly would help keep the community safe, especially in light of the rise in methamphetamine in Chippewa Falls.
“In a given week, we’re dealing with meth in at least two to three of our stops, so it’s certainly present,” McMahon said. “The biggest problem with meth is our officers can’t smell it, but a dog sure could.”
Currently officers can’t detect meth unless they happen to come across it in a traffic stop or through “good police work,” Kelm said.
They have looked into two K-9 training programs, but favor a 6 ½ week program for patrol/narcotics K-9 training program in New Mexico.
In addition to a shorter program with longer days, McMahon said communities such as Eau Claire and Altoona have dogs from the same program.
“If we have a large scale event, whoever the selected officer is would know how Altoona and Eau Claire’s dogs are going to react while dealing with whatever the large scale event is,” he said.
The cost for the training itself, including lodging and transportation, is estimated at $20,700, plus up to $7,000 in expenses for the dog’s equipment.
The department would also need to purchase a vehicle outfitted to suit the K-9 and officer, the largest expense at $65,500.
Finally, yearly training costs and officer expenses are estimated at $8,000-$10,000.
“The initial cost is the bulk of the funding challenge for this, (and) most of it is the vehicle,” Kelm said. “Once that’s there, the ongoing costs are manageable.”
McMahon proposed donations would cover much of the funding, which they hope to get through personal and individuals as well as businesses.
It is a hefty expense, but ultimately he and Kelm feel it is worthwhile in enhancing the safety of the community.
The Lake Hallie Police Department has a K-9, the Stanley Police Department was approved to begin fundraising for one, and the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Department is also looking into the possibility.
Kelm feels having more dogs on the streets would lead to more methamphetamine busts and deterring the problem.
“I would estimate comfortably a significant increase,” he said. “It all comes down to selecting the right handler.”
The handler would be one of the existing officers, who would receive extensive training at the start and throughout the program.
The committee tabled the item and sent it back to Committee 1 to discuss funding at its next meeting.
Something in the trees
Bluestem Forestry Consulting did an inventory of all the public trees in Chippewa Falls and found 1,202, or 20 percent, of them are ash, making them susceptible to emerald ash borer.
Kelli Tuttle, president of Bluestem, said when the insect arrives, those trees will die if not treated.
This means the city, including the parks department, is tasked with deciding what to do with those trees.
“Most communities I work with retain some of them,” Tuttle said. “20 percent is a lot of trees, and it would really have a negative impact on your overall forest quality (to lose those).”
She recommends removing ash trees identified as poor-quality and those under 11 inches, as they are the least valuable in the long run.
That leaves 651 trees she recommends to be preserved, which she estimates would cost the city around $38,000 per year.
“It’s a big decision,” she said. “To remove those trees more costly, but it’s a one time cost.”
If removing the trees, she also recommends replanting trees of a wide variety.
That number does not include ash trees on private property, which could be as many as five for every one public tree.
While residents will have to decide what to do with their own ash trees, the city could address issues with wood waste and dead trees in the future.
“Get ahead of this, put a plan in place and educate your residents,” Tuttle said.
The inventory and emerald ash borer preparedness plan were two parts of a three-part grant the cities of Chippewa Falls and Bloomer received from the Department of Natural Resources. The plan is a draft as it is waiting on DNR approval.
The third part of that grant includes public open houses to educate residents, which she said will occur in the near future.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the Stanley Police Department currently has a K-9. The department was recently approved for funding and is working toward implementing a K-9 program.