New police dog patrols Summit County |

New police dog patrols Summit County

NICOLE FORMOSAsummit daily newsSummit County CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

SUMMIT COUNTY – A new Summit County Sheriff’s Office law enforcer worked his first shift on patrol this week, but you won’t see this newcomer in uniform or carrying a weapon. Tommy is a 21-month-old Dutch Shepherd who came to Summit County from Holland by way of Vohne Liche Kennels, an Indiana-based training camp for working dogs.He’s named after County Commissioner Tom Long, a longtime friend of Sheriff John Minor’s.”That’s probably one of the better honors I’ve ever had,” Long said with a chuckle as he posed with his namesake for a photograph. Long also helped bring the first working dog to Summit County in the early 1990s when he was the mayor of Silverthorne, and the Silverthorne Police Department purchased a Malinois named Ace. The Sheriff’s Office hasn’t had a K-9 unit in many years, and currently the only police dog in the county is 12-year-old Digger, whose handler Wendy Kipple is a sergeant with the Dillon Police Department. Digger is retiring March 1.Tommy’s primary benefit will be helping the Sheriff’s Office increase its efficiency in the field, Minor said.

A trained police dog can search a large building for suspects in about one-eighth the time it would take two police officers, can quickly calm down an unruly crowd and can sniff out narcotics in one sweep through a room. “If we have a search warrant on a house and people have drugs stashed in there, we don’t have to go through all the drawers and everything else, just have the dog run through and they’ll hit on it,” Minor said. “… It’s like having two cops for the price of one.”A classic example of when a police dog could have contributed to an operation was the search for the “Mr. Magoo” bank robber who was holed up in his parents’ Blue River home in March 2005, Minor said. The SWAT team apprehended the Denver criminal, who had attempted to conceal himself in the cabin, but a dog could have either found him more quickly or potentially scared the suspect out on his own. “Sometimes just the psychological presence of a dog being there and knowing what that dog can do will really (compel) cooperation,” said Tommy’s handler, Deputy Brian Smith.Minor selected Smith, a 7-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, as Tommy’s handler after an internal application process. Smith stood out for his desire to learn the handling skills and his commitment to the new K-9 unit (Smith signed a 3-year contract with the Sheriff’s Office with his new position).Smith was up for the challenge.”The bond that you develop between the dog and everything else, and the abilities that you can offer your department and your co-workers, the types of things that you can do are just incredible,” Smith said, as he commanded Tommy in Dutch to stop chewing on his leather leash. After he was selected as the handler, Smith paid for a weeklong trip to the kennel in Indiana to pinpoint the perfect dog for Summit County. All he knew is that the dog needed to have a little bit of everything – be good with people and have a good command of tasks like drug-finding and tracking.

Smith soon narrowed the choice to three breeds, but as a first time handler, he didn’t really know how to make the final decision. “They basically said, ‘Hey it’s like Baskin Robbins, everybody’s got their own flavor, but we’ve got 31 of them. All of these dogs will do well for you, but you’ve got to find the one that’s right.’ And they said, ‘You’ll know your dog when you find him.'”So I took Tommy for a walk, I took the other dogs for a walk and for some reason Knucklehead-here and I clicked,” Smith said.Last month, he returned to Indiana for an intense 6-week training course with Tommy, where the two logged 12- to 14-hour days running obedience, tracking and obstacle drills or training in the classroom. They returned to the county last weekend and worked their first shift as a team on Tuesday night.Tommy will live and work with Deputy Smith, but is the property of the Sheriff’s Office for his first five years of duty. Deputy Smith and Tommy will be available to respond to calls all over the county, and Tommy will begin training with the county’s SWAT team, of which Smith is a member. The Sheriff’s Office had been interested in starting a K-9 unit for about a year, but was always stymied by funding.

Last year, the department opted to look outside its normal budgeting process to make the K-9 unit a reality. Its efforts culminated in a $5,000 grant from Wal-Mart and a $1,500 donation from the Masons, which helped defray the $11,000 pricetag to purchase and train Tommy. The Silverthorne Police Department donated the caging for Smith’s deputy car, which is worth about $3,500. Minor said he is hoping to add a second dog to the K-9 unit in the future.Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at

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