IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — The Ionia Department of Public Safety has its first four-legged officer.
He’s a 2-year-old German Shepherd named Blocker. He and his partner Officer Jennifer Skorka have been training in a vacant Eaton Rapids elementary school for two weeks.
Thursday, Skorka demonstrated how Blocker responds to commands to find drugs.
“They’ve trained to find marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine and ecstasy. So if they find marijuana, they’ll find hash. They find cocaine; they’ll find crack,” Skorka explained.
But Blocker is trained to sniff out more than drugs.
“He does patrol work and the patrol work is to find missing people,” Skorka said.
Missing people — and criminals on the run.
Skorka said Blocker could have made a difference in the February search for Michael Elliot after he escaped from the state prison near Ionia. Elliot made it all the way to Indiana before he was caught by authorities there.
“We could have been there a little bit sooner and started the track to find out exactly where he had gone to and his escape route,” Skorka said.
Blocker will also be able to find evidence like a weapon or bank bag that has been thrown away.
Ionia DPS says adding a K-9 to their team is long overdue. Officers currently have to wait for a dog from another department like the Ionia County Sheriff’s Office or Michigan State Police.
The delay can mean letting potential criminals go, police say. If officers can’t quickly find contraband and don’t have probable cause to detain someone, they have to let people go.
“Sometimes we just have to let it go — we can’t find what we are looking for,” Skorka said. “That feels horrible, because you know it’s there, but you don’t have the probable cause or anything like that to get it.”
Ionia police say Blocker will also help them increase response times in emergencies. The wait for a K-9 from another agency ties up Ionia officers at one scene and slows their response to other calls. And borrowing a K-9 unit can slow down the response of officers from the other departments, too.
It’s a ripple effect, police say, that Blocker should be able to stop.
The department has wanted a K-9 for years, but didn’t have the funds to get one. Blocker and his training cost about $9,000. He also needs equipment that ran about $15,000. Donations from the community covered all of the expenses.
Blocker was sworn in as an officer earlier this month, but it will be a few weeks before he is on the job. He and Skorka will continue to train in the meantime.