The department hopes to raise $50,000 over the next five years for a canine unit.
Crystal Police Chief John Banick witnessed first-hand what an invaluable resource a police dog can be to its partner.
As a canine officer in Maplewood, he was wrestling with a man much bigger than himself who had just bailed out of a stolen car. His canine jumped from the squad car, biting the suspect's leather jacket. The man wasn't injured, but Banick said it was enough of a distraction for him to get the thief into handcuffs.
Tight budgets often prevent officials from considering such new initiatives as a canine unit. So the Crystal Police Department is starting a fundraising drive to buy its first police dog. The five-year goal is $50,000, but Banick hopes a portion of that can be raised to buy a dog within the next year.
Blaine Police Department started a similar effort last April, raising $6,000 to buy a Belgian Malinois-German Shepherd mix named Rex last month. It is the department's second canine.
Although crime has decreased nearly 5 percent in Crystal this year compared to 2011, Banick said there are incidents daily in which police could use the help of a canine. For example, searching a building, tracking down a suspect in a burglary or searching for a lost person.
"Canines can often do it much quicker and safer than an officer," he said. "I know what they can do."
Right now, Crystal police can borrow a canine from neighboring New Hope or the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office if one is available. The canines can be delivered relatively quickly, but even a short delay can be significant when tracking a suspect or a lost child, said Banick.
"Time is of the essence," he said. "One dog can search a building in the time it would take a handful of officers to do the same thing."
Banick, who has been the chief in Crystal for nearly five years, believes it's the right time to raise funds for a canine. People can donate directly to the city of Crystal. There are also at least four fundraising events planned in the next few months. They include a carnival and movie at Becker Park on June 23, a steak fry at the Crystal VFW June 13 and a "bagging groceries for tips" event at Cub Foods May 26.
It takes about a year of training before a canine is considered ready for patrol, said Banick. Eventually the dog could also be trained to search for narcotics.
"Dogs are just a wonderful tool to have in your tool belt," he said.
Blaine started a public safety association five years ago to raise money for a variety of equipment for the police and fire departments. Funds have been used for scholarships to a youth safety camp, CPR mannequins for the fire department, equipment needs for a command vehicle and a special air-conditioner for the canine handler's squad vehicle, said Kathy Weinbeck, the association's president. Fundraising events included a pet walk.
Banick said canine fundraisers go over well and serve a purpose beyond collecting dollars and cents.
"It's building community spirit. I want this to be the community taking an ownership role in the canine unit."
David Chanen • 612-673-4465