New K-9s coming to St. Clair Shores

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 22, 2019

 From left, new K-9 Officer Travis Kaufman stands with current K-9 officers Gerald Chomos and Tom Price. Kaufman and Price will get their new dogs in April.

From left, new K-9 Officer Travis Kaufman stands with current K-9 officers Gerald Chomos and Tom Price. Kaufman and Price will get their new dogs in April.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Five months after the death of police K-9 Axe, St. Clair Shores police officers will choose two new German shepherd dogs to become members of the force.

Police Chief Todd Woodcox made the request to purchase two new K-9s to replace Axe, who was killed in the line of duty Nov. 4. The cost for the two dogs, equipment and training will be $23,600. It will be paid with proceeds from insurance carried on the life of Axe, a grant from the Stanton Foundation that pays $10,000 toward the purchase of a new K-9 after one is killed in the line of duty, and donations that poured into the city in the wake of Axe’s death.

“It means everything” to Officer Tom Price, who will be one of the officers selecting a new K-9 partner from Von der Haus Kennels in Ohio this April. Axe was Price’s K-9, whom he had been working with for about two years.

“I know it’s not a replacement. I’m just hoping for the best dog I can pick,” he said. “One that will fit in with the family, the department (and) my personality.”

Officer Travis Kaufman, who has been with the St. Clair Shores Police Department for nearly four years, will be the second officer to train to become a K-9 handler.

He said that he has always aspired to be a K-9 officer. He said that he was inspired by “watching Axe work and Wylie.”

Wylie is the department’s current K-9, who is partnered with Officer Gerald Chomos. He will turn 7 in May and works in fields that include narcotics detection, tracking suspects and missing persons, building searches, crowd control and public relations. With the advent of the legalization of marijuana, however, Woodcox told the City Council that he is concerned that Wylie’s “usability for finding narcotics could come into question sometime in the future.”

“He cannot untrain Wylie on detection of marijuana,” Woodcox said, explaining that while Wylie is still an excellent tracking dog, if officers were to conduct a search of a person or house for illegal contraband, Wylie could be “hitting on something that’s actually legal.”

“The question (is) going to come: Can we use his sniffing ability as probable cause to search something?” Woodcox continued. “We’re going to have to be very careful of using him at the right time.”

The new K-9s will not be trained in marijuana detection, allowing them to work in the areas of detection for which they are trained.

The department requested to purchase the new dogs, and their equipment and training, from K9 Academy Training Facility in Taylor. Woodcox explained that while there are other local academies through Macomb and Oakland counties, the department would be assigned dogs and the officers would not get to choose their own. K9 ATF allows the officers to choose their own dogs from a certain kennel in Ohio.

Other training facilities that are out of state are more expensive than the package offered by K9 ATF, and they don’t include a year of maintenance training after the initial training is complete.

Kaufman’s dog, equipment and training will cost $12,100 from K9 ATF. Price’s new dog and training will cost $11,500 because he will not need new equipment for the dog; he can use some equipment he already had been using with Axe.

Woodcox said that the K-9s are “awesome assets” to the department.

“When we’ve had someone walk away from a home ... we have found people, using dogs, shivering, hiding in backyards at 3 in the morning when we wouldn’t have found them in time,” he said. “Anyone that ever interacted with Axe loved Axe. It’s awesome to get (children) meeting with police officers on a positive note.”

Kaufman said that is what he is most looking forward to when he is working with his new dog: “seeing the look on kids’ faces when the K-9 comes out of the car.”

Councilman John Caron thanked the officers for “stepping up” for the commitment to be a K-9 officer.

“It’s a great benefit for the community,” he said.

Woodcox explained that by having three K-9 teams, they will be able to make sure that a K-9 is available nearly all the time. One of the positions, he said, will work a “flex shift” of about 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., bridging the gap between the daytime shift and the midnight shift, as well as having different days off than the other two teams “to get the maximum coverage we can.”

The City Council unanimously approved the $23,600 cost to purchase the new dogs at its March 18 meeting. The two officers will travel to the kennels April 7 to pick out their dogs and then commence the three-month training with K9 ATF.

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