MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – Three special officers with the Myrtle Beach Police Department are about to get some very critical equipment. The Myrtle Beach Police Department K9 Unit will get three brand new vests. The bullet-proof and stab-proof vests will protect the dogs as they protect the city.
The K9 Unit started 16 years ago. So Alli, Roscoe, and Kelly make up the second generation of police dogs. Alli is eight years old and considered the anchor of the team. Roscoe is six years old and excels at drug searches. Kelly is the newest addition to the team, and she is a great tracking dog.
"We don't want them to get hurt ultimately," said MBPD Private First Class Kenneth Harlow. "They're in bad situations, they're jumping in cars, jumping around, all kind of stuff. We don't want any dog to get hurt in the end."
Vested Interest in K9's is the non-profit organization coordinating the whole process to get the vests funded and then made. The three vests are being made right now by a company in Michigan. Each protective vest is funded by a charitable donation by anonymous donors. K9 Kelly's vest will be embroidered with the sentiment: "All the virtues of man without his vices". K9 Alli's vests will be embroidered with the sentiment: "And so you may live, my life is also yours". And K9 Roscoe's vest will be embroidered with the sentiment: "Loyalty, Honor, Courage, Strength".
To qualify for the donation, the police department had to verify K9 Unit was up-to-date on current certifications, the dogs are actively deployed by the department, and are at least 20 months old. The vests could be delivered by the end of June or July. Each one is valued between $1,700 and $2,200. They each come with a five-year warranty.
It is expected to take two to three months to make the vests, because each one is specially fitted to each canine. These vests are essentially body armor for the dogs. They are running head-first before their handlers into dangerous situations. Police officers are expected to wear their vests. These K9 officers are just as valuable to the department. And not just for the city, they assist neighboring cities and the county, too. With that in mind, the handlers will do anything to protect their partners.
"Roscoe is a partner. I don't know what I'd do without him. Our last day will be a very, very bad day," said PFC Harlow, who has been with the Myrtle Beach Police Department for seven years. He has been Roscoe's handler for the past three. Getting body armor for Roscoe brings him a little peace of mind. "It will be hard to move on without Roscoe when he finally retires," said Harlow. "So in order to keep him as protected as possible, it's very, very key to our success."
Roscoe is a rescue and was adopted by the department six years ago as a puppy. He's now one of the best drug dogs in the area, said Harlow. And Roscoe's coming up on his 500th deployment in his career.
All three dogs have to train for at least 16 hours each month. When it comes to training for drug searches, the K9s will use a wall with holes in it. The officer will put a drug sample in one of the holes. The dog must sniff, and when it detects the drugs, sit down to alert the handler. If the dog gets it right, a tennis ball comes out of the wall as a reward. The K9 Unit is focusing on five drugs: marijuana, cocaine, meth, MDMA, and heroin.
"These dogs are an extension of our senses," said Harlow. "Roscoe will tell me there's drug odor coming from this vehicle, which will allow us to get in the vehicle and search the vehicle." A drug search typically leads to more. "That leads to guns and everything else that goes along with crime that we want to get out of our city," said Harlow.
The dogs train in every environment, so they are comfortable with any situation. The unit trains for tracking situations and searches, too. That could include tracking down a suspect, searching for a lost person, or searching for items like guns or weapons.
"We want to keep as much bad stuff out of our city," said Harlow. "We want to protect it. It's a beautiful place. We all live here, we want to make it as safe as we can."
The K9 team most recently responded to drug sniffs, article searches, and to track suspects. According to Cpl. Chris Smith, the head of the K9 Unit, in just the past year, the dogs have been deployed a total of 310 times. As the city grows, the department hopes to grow the K9 Unit to keep up with demand. By adding a fourth dog, the department would have a K9 working every shift. That means there would be 24-hour coverage in the city.
The Women's Club of Myrtle Beach donated Alli and Kelly to the department. Cpl. Smith says the group has the fund ready for a fourth dog, but there's a lot more that goes into it before they can get a new dog. Smith said just to purchase a dog and send the K9 and the officer to school will cost between $9,000 and $10,000. That doesn't include paying for the vet visits, the food, the equipment, the special car, or hiring an officer. Because this would require a lot of funding and adjustments to the budget, there's no timeline right now on when the department could potentially get a new K9 officer.