Wanted: Vehicle for Westmoreland K-9 officer
When a woman allegedly made a vague comment about an explosive in her purse last week as she entered the Westmoreland County Courthouse, the police K-9 officer sprang into action.
In a few seconds of sniffing, Officer Rex determined the courthouse was not in danger.
“He's a valuable resource,” Chief Nick Caesar said when the 3-year-old Belgian Malinois detected no explosives in the woman's purse. “It's nice when we have him close by.”
The department hopes to raise enough money to provide Rex's handler, Officer William Meyers, with another valuable resource — a new vehicle. The pair's current outfit, a 2008 Ford Escape, doesn't have much room for the 80-pound dog, Meyers and equipment, including a portable X-ray unit.
“I have to leave (the unit in the courthouse), because there's no space in the car,” Meyers said.
Rex became the first K-9 officer on the county force in late 2012 through a Department of Homeland Security grant. A patrol vehicle was transformed to accommodate the dog, who is trained in gun and explosives detection, as well as human tracking and apprehension.
“It's really not a suitable operational vehicle for a K-9 unit,” Caesar said. “We need something reliable.”
Because K-9 programs can be expensive, Caesar said he promised the Westmoreland County commissioners that the added resource would not be a burden on the budget. The program is not in jeopardy, but the department hopes to purchase a vehicle next year as Meyers' is approaching 100,000 miles.
The cost of a completely outfitted Ford Explorer K9 vehicle is $32,300. About $2,000 has been donated toward the purchase.
“It's a community resource, and we're looking for the community to give us a hand,” Caesar said. “We have something very valuable, and we're sharing it.”
The current vehicle is not a “police interceptor” and doesn't have the braking and handling capabilities that are necessary in a high-speed response, Meyers said.
“The majority of these call-outs ... time is of the essence,” he said.
The vehicle might last about two more years, but a new one “would probably last as long as Rex is in service,” Meyers said.
Rex and Meyers provide support to every police agency in Westmoreland County and can help around the region as well.
Tracy L. Kruel, 37, of Greensburg, who allegedly made the comment about an explosive in her purse on Thursday while entering the courthouse, has been cited for disorderly conduct.
Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.