Awareness and donor generosity are helping Minnesota police K-9s get bulletproof vests to keep them safe in the line of duty, but one of the largest departments says it isn't concerned about its shortage.
Bulletproof vests for dogs are not something most police departments budget for because they can cost $3,000 apiece and do have a shelf life since the warranty expires after 5 years. The St. Paul Police Department does have 3 vests, but that means not every one of the 19 K-9s is protected as their human counterparts are.
Kriscel Estrella is a volunteer with Vested Interest for K-9s, a group that uses social media and crowd funding to raise money for bulletproof vests.
"We've had some people donate for a full vest," Estrella said.
Her group recently brought in $9,000 for several Minnesota departments, and they've already outfitted more than 24 dogs in the state. Yet, when it comes to the St. Paul Police Department, she says "it seems like they are not interested in working with outside sources."
Last march, Fox 9 News reported about Joe Van Sloan, who generously gave $1,000 to the Brooklyn Park Police Department for their own K-9 vest. Even though he wants to give to St. Paul police too, he's not sure they'll take his money.
"It's very frustrating," he conceded. "Like the dog that passed away in St. Paul last year in the line of duty -- I mean, we want to get those dogs in vests as quickly as possible."
Kody was the name of the St. Paul K-9 killed last February, stabbed by a man he was trying to capture; however, St. Paul Sgt. John Linssen, who leads the K-9 unit, says vests don't necessarily mean a dog will be safer.
"It might make it safer from getting shot or stabbed where that vest covers, but it also causes a lot of negatives with heat retention and the dog's ability to do what it needs to do," he said.
Richfield's K-9 handler Nate Kinsey and his dog, Rocky, received a much-needed vest from Vested Interest, and Kinsey said his philosophy is that a vest is better than nothing.
"[Heat retention] is a concern, but in the summertime, I just take it off him and put it on when we are going to a call," Officer Kinsey explained. "I feel they're great, and I have not seen any drawbacks."
According to Linssen, the department -- along with its in-house non-profit -- does have the money to outfit all their K-9s, but they are taking time to evaluate which vests are the most appropriate since many makers offer vests of varying quality.
Among the other big agencies, Minneapolis has 13 K-9s and only 3 vests. Hennepin County has 12 K-9s and no vests. Estrella says her group will focus on the departments that want help first. For now, St. Paul police say any money donated will be set aside, but they will not begin purchasing vests for their K-9s until next summer.
- Vested Interest in K-9s: http://www.vik9s.org/
- Benefit for Vested Interest in K-9s: http://www.crowdrise.com/hbj4vik9s
- St. Paul Police K-9 Foundation: thewcfcompany.com
- Minneapolis Police K-9 Foundation: www.mplspolicek9foundation.org/