Officer Deric Nichols and his K-9, Geri, speak to Springfield Rotary on Monday. MICHAEL COOPER/STAFF
Photo: MICHAEL COOPER/STAFF
Photo: MICHAEL COOPER/STAFF

Springfield K-9 unit responds to hundreds of calls annually

The K-9 unit includes Officer Kevin Hoying and his dog, Spike, as well as Officer Deric Nichols and his dog, Gery. The officers spoke about their unit at the Springfield Rotary Meeting at the Clark State Community College Hollenbeck-Bayley Creative Arts and Conference Center on Monday, which included a demonstration and appearance from the dogs.

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The dogs are trained to perform many activities, including searching for drugs, guns and clothing. They also provide handler protection and suspect apprehension, Hoying said.

“They’re an outstanding source of probable cause,” Hoying said.

The dogs are certified to find marijuana, heroin, crack, cocaine and meth, he said, which often leads to other things.

The K-9 unit estimates it has confiscated more than 19,000 grams of drugs during 670 deployments over the last 3½ years, including 13,000 grams of marijuana. They’ve also found about $300,000 and about 50 guns, Nichols said.

“I use him almost daily,” Hoying said. “They look for a lot of suspects and we take a lot of dope and guns off the street.”

However, the K-9 unit recently had to refuse search warrants for drug sniffs because fentanyl — a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin — can be harmful to the dogs, Hoying said.

“It’s very dangerous,” he said. “Their noses are wet. If it gets airborne, it will stick to their nose, they’ll take it and they’ll overdose just like people.”

The police dogs can search a large building much with less officers, Hoying said. Rather than eight to 10 officers clearing a large warehouse, the police can use three to four officers and a K-9, he said.

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“It’s safer and you’re using a lot less manpower,” Hoying said.

The dogs aren’t used if guns or knives could be involved, Hoying said. The dogs also have bulletproof vests that can be used in certain situations, he said.

“We’re going to treat them just like us,” Hoying said. “We’ve never sent them into their own grave or funeral.”

The dogs are all paid for through private donations, Police Chief Steve Moody said. The dogs were purchased through fundraisers from the Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association at a cost of about $15,000 each, he said.

“None of this comes from the city’s general fund,” Moody said.

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Dr. Dana King of the Northside Veterinary Clinic provides care for the dogs for their entire lifespan, including food and medical care. The dogs will work between 8 and 10 years, depending health, before retirement. The handlers will purchase the dogs from the Police Division for $1 once they’ve been retired.

The dogs live with their handlers, Nichols said, and they’re just like any other dog. In the field, the dogs are trained to listen to their handlers.

“Everything we do is set up through a series of commands,” Nichols said. “They’re normal dogs until we (command them).”

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