Budget cuts are a primary concern for Law Enforcement as it is the single most expensive cost to local municipalities. K9 units are one of the first to feel the pinch, explains Kristi Schiller, Founder of K9s4COPs, a non-profit formed to address the need for funding the purchase of K9s for law enforcement agencies. The dogs are crucial to police departments due to their ability to work through simple problems that are more complicated for humans, their sense of smell to detect people, drugs and contraband in a more efficient, cost-saving way, and most importantly, to protect, and in some cases, save the lives of the officers. While pilot programs are in place to test devices from companies such as Taser International and GOPRO, K9 units provide a service no human or machine can to supplement and enhance law enforcement.
The tragic story of a police K9 lost in the line of duty inspired the founding of an organization dedicated to improving the effectiveness of law enforcement and ensuring public safety.
Harris County Precinct 4 Deputy Ted Dahlin spent more than three years building up an intense level of trust with his partner.
The two had gone through rigorous training together, and out on patrol, Dahlin was secure in the knowledge that his partner would lay down his life to protect Dahlin’s if necessary, without question and without hesitation.
That’s what partners do—particularly, partners of the four-legged variety.
“When you’re on an eight- or 10-hour shift and you’re subject to call out 24/7, you spend a lot of time with your dog,” Dahlin said. “Once they’ve found that first or second bad guy who could have killed you if he wanted to, you learn to trust your K9.”
In the late afternoon hours of Dec. 22, 2009, Dahlin and his K9 partner, a 5-year-old Czech-German shepherd named Blek, responded to a burglary call. It was the last call Dahlin and Blek would ever work together. Two burglary suspects, surprised by the arrival of uniformed officers, had fled into a wooded area of north Houston. Blek went in after them, just as he was trained to do, but he didn’t come out.
One of the burglary suspects, a 17-year-old named Cornelious Harrell, strangled Blek to death. Dahlin had lost his partner and his friend.
“That night was very hard,” Dahlin remembers. “I spent more time with Blek than I did my family. When I lost him, it kind of took the wind out of my sails. “Really, all I wanted after that night was to see something good come from that horrible incident.” And in fact, something good would come from it.
Learning of Dahlin’s loss and Blek’s sacrifice while watching the evening news, Houston-area philanthropist and animal lover Kristi Schiller was moved to act. She called a local politician she knew and inquired about donating a new K9 to the Harris County Precinct 4 Constable’s Office. Her generous request was met with little more than questions and bureaucratic red tape. “I quickly found it wasn’t as easy to donate a dog as I thought it would be,” Schiller says.
Next, Schiller took to the Internet in search of some sort of charitable organization that could cut through the red tape and help her fulfill her wish of donating a K9. Again, she came up empty, but she did learn through her Internet search that more than a dozen law enforcement agencies, just in her home state of Texas, were in the process of trying to acquire K9s. She also learned that a trained K9 carried an initial price tag of between $10,000 and $15,0000, and that K9 unit budgets were often the first casualty of rough economic times within a police department.
“I saw a need that wasn’t being fulfilled and decided that I needed to do something to help. I decided that this was my calling,” Schiller says. “I called our lawyer and said I wanted to start a charity.”
In June 2010, Schiller founded K9s4COPs with the mission of raising charitable funds to acquire and donate trained K9s to law enforcement agencies in need. On March 27, 2011, the organization received its 501 (c)(3) non-profit status, and less than a month later, K9s4COPs made its first donation to the Harris County (Texas) Sheriff’s Department: four K9s named Boomer, Fozzie, Mikey and Tamara.
Since then, K9s4COPs has grown exponentially. In 2011, the organization donated 10 K9s to two agencies in Texas. In 2012, the tally was 13 K9s to nine agencies in three states. So far this year, K9s4COPs has gifted 19 K9s to 15 agencies in seven different states, and in just over two years since its inception has raised more than $2 million to support the cause.
“We’re filling a gap that counties and districts often can’t fill,” said K9s4COPs Executive Director Liz Lara-Carreno. “We don’t want money to ever be an issue getting in the way of an officer having a K9 and performing the work they do in the community.”
The Harris County Sheriff’s Department, recipient of K9s4COPs’ first-ever gift, has since received 16 K9s from the organization, bringing the department K9 unit’s roster to 23 K9s.
Sgt. Mike Thomas has been with the Harris County Sheriff’s Department since 1985 and has spent the last 22 years working with the K9 unit. He’s worked his way from the bottom up— starting out as a bite-suit-wearing decoy during K9 training sessions and now serving as day- shift sergeant as well as training sergeant—and he’s seen the unit grow. Thanks to K9s4COPs, he says, the department’s K9 unit has almost tripled in size in the time he’s worked there.
The addition of all those well-trained dogs has benefitted not only the department and the officers they patrol with. More importantly, it’s benefitted the community as a whole—and the benefit is quantifiable.
“Those 16 dogs that K9s4COPS have donated have improved the quality of life for the citizens of Harris County,” he says. “You think about the felony suspects they’ve taken off the streets, the dope they’ve taken off the streets. One of our dogs in the last year has taken $6 million dollars worth of drugs off the street, and I have several that have taken over $4 million.”
Deputies Alex Chapa and Daniel Kerrigan are two of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department officers who have benefitted from the generosity of K9s4COPs. Both took a trip with Sgt. Thomas and other deputies to a kennel several states away to select their donated K9 partners.
For Kerrigan, who had never owned a dog before and went to the kennel with no preconceived notions, the selection of Dutch shepherd Bailey, dual trained for patrol and narcotics detection, was all about the eye test. Chapa, on the other hand, had more of a predetermined idea about the qualities he would look for in a new partner.
“Going in, I knew I wanted a smaller dog,” Chapa said. “I’m about 5 feet 8 inches, 185 pounds or so, and I didn’t want a dog that would drag me through the woods or knock me off my feet.”
Chapa found his perfect match in Rocco, a Belgian Malinois with specialized training as a patrol K9 and in explosive detection.
“He was probably the smallest dog I saw, but he had the biggest attitude out of all of them. He was everything I wanted: a small dog with a crazy motor.”
Both deputies agree that the K9 partners they’ve received through the generosity of K9s4COPs are helping them perform their duties better and more confidently.
“At the sheriff’s office, we don’t have two-man units, so this is the best you could ask for,” Chapa said. “You always have someone there that has your back. If somebody’s trying to fight me or hurt me, I’ve always got Rocco there to have my back. I’ve got my own support 24/7.”
Kerrigan learned very early on in his career with the K9 unit that the sense of security Chapa describes can turn very real.
Just out of K9 school, Kerrigan and Bailey saw their first real-world deployment when they were called with other officers to respond to a home invasion. Gunfire was exchanged, and the armed suspect fled into a wooded area. After a good deal of searching through the brush, Kerrigan and his dog located the suspect, who turned his gun on Kerrigan. That’s when Kerrigan’s K9 partner went into action, bursting toward the armed suspect, hitting him hard in the arm and knocking the gun loose. The suspect was taken into custody, and Kerrigan and his K9 lived to serve another day.
Now having served with K9 Bailey for two years, Kerrigan has developed a keen appreciation for the abilities of these brave service dogs. They are valuable partners in the war on crime.
“Since I became a K9 handler, my ability to catch suspects is probably two or three times what it was before. And that’s just one handler,” he says. “Our K9 unit has more than doubled in size in the two years I’ve been here, so if you factor in the money seizures, the narcotics seizures, the fleeing suspects we’ve caught, the armed suspects we’ve taken off the streets and you multiply that times the 15 or 16 dogs we’ve gotten, that’s a lot of bad guys K9s4COPS has taken off the streets through their gifts to us.”
Besides the physical gift of police K9s, the K9s4COPs organization is also providing a valuable service to law enforcement in the area of training. This past October, K9s4COPs hosted its first Texas K9 Officers Conference and Trials in Houston, bringing in subject matter experts from around the U.S. to share knowledge with the 75 K9 officers who attended. The officers were able to learn new techniques and gain valuable TCLEOSE (Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education) certification hours. This inaugural conference was such a success that plans are already being made for a larger conference in 2014.
On the 2013 conference’s final day, 30 K9/handler teams had the opportunity to let off a little steam and put their abilities on display at the Hard Dog Fast Dog Competition at Thorne Stadium in Houston. K9 competitors were put to the test and judged on the power and strength with which they could hit a bite-suit-clad decoy (Hard Dog) and how fast they could run (Fast Dog).
Fittingly, it was two well-trained K9s4COPs-donated dogs from the Harris County Sheriff’s Department that took home top honors in the competition. Alex Chapa’s partner Rocco posted a 31 mph sprint time to win Fast Dog, and Daniel Kerrigan’s partner Bailey finished off a dead run by putting a ferocious hit on a decoy to take Hard Dog honors.
While the event was a lot of fun for the participants and for members of the public who gathered to cheer on the competitors, Chapa noted that the K9s4COPs Hard Dog Fast Dog Competition provided more than just entertainment value.
“Basically, we were competing in what we do,” he said. “You know, we don’t really get graded on the job. They just tell you, ‘Hey good job’ or, ‘hey you caught the bad guy.’ Getting to see the other dogs work and getting to meet other handlers from all over Texas gave me something to work on moving forward.”
Standing with K9s4COPs founder Kristi Schiller and receiving their
Hard Dog and Fast Dog awards at midfield of Thorne Stadium, Kerrigan and Chapa were able to reflect on the real value of Schiller’s young organization—both to themselves personally and to the community at large.
“I know for sure if it wasn’t for K9s4COPs, I wouldn’t be where I am,” Chapa noted. “Our K9 unit wouldn’t be as strong as it is.”
“It’s really cool that we get to work with dogs,” Kerrigan said. “But when you break it down to what it’s really accomplishing, it’s a lot bigger than just more cops with dogs. It’s safer people.
“While I’ve benefitted from having the K9 they donated,” he said. “I think our community has benefitted even more—the good guys in the community, anyway.”
A going away party for crime? That’s how the Harriman Police Department is describing their annual Night Out Against Crime event at the Riverfront Park. It’s a time for the Harriman community and the police department to team up against crime in their neighborhoods. For nearly seven years, the police department has held the event on the first Tuesday in August. One demonstration that had all eyes on it was the K-9 simulation with officers. “Like if you tell them to do something, like if you tell them to bite a guy, they’ll go bite him,” said Austin Swafford of Harriman. Harriman police officers ran two scenarios with their K-9s. One involving a suspect running away and the other if an officer is attacked. “It’s really neat how they can train them to know whether there’s drugs or things that there shouldn’t be in the vehicle or on the person,” said Maryann Hill of Harriman. The event is also supposed to give a message to potential criminals in the area. “It’s a night against crime that we’re here to say we don’t want crime in our city,” said Karen Joseph of the Harriman Police Department. For some, forming that bond with police officers has been a positive experience. “I’ve got one granddaughter that’s involved in this. She’s an explorer with the police department and it helps all these young kids to learn responsibilities and teaches them up the right way,” said Sandra Taylor of Harriman. The goal is that people will create a camaraderie in the neighborhood and a stronger partnership with law enforcement. Harriman’s event falls in line with the national Night Out Against Crime. Since 1984, it has spread to all fifty states and involves nearly 38 million people and more than 16,000 communities. http://www.wate.com/story/26207324/harriman-hosts-night-out-against-crime
Two of H-Town’s glamorous buxom blondes are making national news this week — one for a mega-closet, the other for a canine focus — and both for their charitable bent.
Kristi Schiller is the latest to garner national ink with a feature in People magazine about K9s4COPS, the non-profit that she has ardently supported since founding it in 2010. Schiller and her team are the subject of a two-page “Heroes Among Us” profile in the July 28 issue where this “wise-cracking Texan with a colorful past,” as she is described, makes the case for supporting the non-profit.
The magazine reports that since its founding K9s4COPS has provided 60 dogs (minimum cost $10,000 each) to police agencies in 17 states.
This is not Schiller’s first moment of national attention. Her team had one of the premier floats in the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, 2014, introducing the non-profit to millions of viewers.
TIPTON, Iowa — If and when someone goes missing in Tipton, the police have a new tool to assist in the search.
Officers Friday introduced the department’s new K9 officer to the public. Bullet and her handler, Officer Scott McGlaughlin, have been training in Texas. A grant from the non-profit group “K9s4COPs” paid for Bullet and her training.
The Tipton Police Department is the only law enforcement agency in Cedar County to have a K9 officer. “I think it’s a great tool to have.
Again, for Tipton and Cedar County as a whole. It’s a tool that we can definitely take advantage of and I think this dog will be a good asset to our community,” said McGlaughlin. Also Friday, the department unveiled an original painting featuring Bullet. Cedar Rapids artist Santiago Sanchez donated the painting.
The department will sell 1,000 limited edition prints to raise money for Bullet’s care.
Every time I learn of another school shooting I can’t help but think what if a K9 had been present?
Teachers packing heat aren’t the answer. They underpaid superheroes to begin with; they don’t need this added responsibility. Even if they’re certified to carry, do they have to time to go the range and maintain their skills? I’m fortunate enough to have my own gun range and know what it takes to remain proficient with firearms. It takes work! I could not imagine trying to maintain that precision while trying to herd 25 screaming first graders!
What happens when children are hit with “friendly fire” from a person with the very best of intentions? You can control a weapon but what about those children around it? Who is going to stop a panicking child from running where they shouldn’t? That’s the teachers job. Keeping them out of harm’s way not inadvertently putting them there!
What if the weapon falls into the hands of a child? Or one of those students on edge that are often at the heart of theses tragic shootings?
I believe K9s are the deterrents we should be seeking. A K9 isn’t going to stop an active shooter situation, but he can sure buy an extra 45 seconds for those seeking safety or signal when someone’s entering campus with gunshot residue on their hands or firearms, or heaven forbid, explosives, in their backpacks! It’s already well documented as to how successful K9s are at keeping drugs off of campuses, why should firearms be any different?
People DO NOT realize how highly trained these dogs truly are! They might not be able to “detect crazy” but trust me their instincts on crazy are way better than ours! How many times have we seen stories where household pets have alerted their owners to dangerous situations? How about the dog that warned the family off of the abusive babysitter? The dogs, on their own, have that instinct. K9s are selected for that superior trait and it’s honed to perfection through training.
Take our own “Shadow Sentinels,” our personal protection K9s. I can’t fathom the safety of my child without her “ninja nanny.” My daughter Sinclair is 44 pounds, dripping wet. If someone was to grab her and starting running, there’s not much she can do. With K9 Daisy at her side, the odds of a stranger danger dramatically decrease.
All it takes is one code word (usually in Czech, Dutch or German) to put Daisy in stealth mode. She locks on an assailant to give Sinclair a chance to get free. When the code word for stop is engaged, she immediately stops and goes back to family pet mode. Again, the switch is immediate, from jaws clamped around an attacker one second to being attacked by pets and praise by a group of children in another.
K9s4KIDs may not be the best answer, but until someone comes up with a better one that doesn’t involve $1,000 Kevlar backpacks or blankets, I’m not budging.
Kristi Schiller was watching the 10 p.m. news when the grief-stricken figure of Harris County deputy constable Ted Dahlin filled her TV screen.
It was clear what had happened: Man and dog had been in pursuit of burglary suspects when the dog sped ahead. The highly trained canine cornered at least one of four young men, but a fifth came up from behind and choked the dog to death.
That December 2009, Schiller started learning as much as she could about police dogs and their officers. She hoped Dahlin’s dog, Blek, would be replaced swiftly, but she discovered that was highly unlikely. Dahlin would have to do desk duty until he himself could scrape up the $10,000 to $15,000 it would take to replace his partner. And fundraising efforts tended to be low-wattage affairs – bake sales, barbecues and car washes.
Schiller, a lifelong volunteer, decided to wade in. In 2010, she started K9s4Cops, a nonprofit group that helps law enforcement agencies here and across the country buy top-quality police dogs. Today, K9s4Cops has put more than 60 canines on the streets, and an offshoot, K9s4Kids, is helping to beef up security at nine school campuses across the state.
Early on, Schiller and her husband, Energy XXI chairman and CEO John Schiller, underwrote the program. Over time, however, generous Houstonians and law enforcement officers from across the country have opened their wallets, too.
Supporters want to strengthen the ties between communities and the men and women who work to keep them safe.
Also, it’s hard to resist Schiller and her king shepherd, Johnny Cash.
The dog, who doubles as a mascot and security guard, is 140 pounds and an expressive, gentle giant. At 43, Schiller still looks like the media personality and model she used to be. She’s been compared to both Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball. She looks like Monroe, acts like Ball and makes visitors feel as if they are a part of her high-society world.
She’s all business, however, when she’s talking about the important roles dogs play in police work.
“Blek died,” Schiller says, “but Ted Dahlin went home to his wife and children.”
Ready for fame
Schiller grew up in Brazosport, where, she says, the road meets the Gulf of Mexico. Her family was in the offshore-boat business, and she ate raw oysters for snacks.
After earning a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Houston, Schiller took a job in an early version of entertainment TV.
The show, “Day and Date,” was canceled after 13 weeks, but Schiller couldn’t imagine failure when she arrived in the Big Apple to start work. Her maiden name was Hoss, and she introduced herself to everyone she met: “I’m Kristi Hoss, and I’m going to be famous in about a week.”
After a few months, she was back in Houston, working at radio station KL0L, 101 FM, where she dished out entertainment news and relationship advice starting at 5 a.m.
On the air she was known as Lucy Lipps, and partly because of her easy on-air persona and partly because of her interest in technology and social media, her reputation grew.
Forbes magazine named her “Queen of the Internet” in 1997.
“I loved it,” Schiller says. “And then I realized things were getting out of control. People knew me, and I didn’t know them.”
Schiller briefly worked as a stockbroker.
“But that didn’t last,” she says. “So I moved to New Orleans.”
In the matchmaking department, Schiller was surprisingly effective – she fixed up nine couples who actually got married. But she herself was single, rich in friends but poor in boyfriends. Then, when she was 30, a friend tried to fix her up. “Oh, honey,” she told him, “this isn’t going to work. I’m the matchmaker.”
Finally, however, Schiller agreed to meet the wildcatter who would be her future husband. It was July 2001, a hurricane was brewing in the Gulf, and the French Quarter was flooding.
“John was completely wigged out,” Schiller says. “I told him, ‘Don’t worry. I’ve lived through 150 of these things.’ ”
The date didn’t last long, but both were smitten. They met again the next week, and they’ve been together ever since.
Sinclair, their daughter, was born in 2006. She was 6 in 2012.the year of the Sandy Hook, Conn., school shooting That’s when Schiller decided to start K9s4Kids, which she is hoping to expand along with K9s4Cops.
She is not opposed to guns – she’s a member of the National Rifle Association and has a license to carry. But, she says, one protection dog is a better investment than a school full of armed teachers.
“They are underpaid heroes,” Schiller says, “but they’re not in the business of reading, writing and Remingtons. When they were hired, nobody asked them, ‘How’s your aim?’ ”
Expanding her charity
Today hundreds of volunteers are involved in Schiller’s organization.
One is Bill Stanton, who describes himself as a private eye and former cop from the Bronx.
“Kristi reminds me of a modern-day Lucille Ball – she creates a tornado wherever she goes. But it’s a tornado for good, and her energy and enthusiasm are infectious. She has this down-home-iness that people just love.”
Sgt. Mike Thomas, in charge of the canine unit for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, appreciates Schiller’s can-do attitude.
“She may have a ditzy, blond persona in public, but she’s intelligent, and she’s learned the dog business,” Thomas says. “People respect that.”
Early on, the sergeant says, Schiller gave his department five dogs. They were trainable but the equivalent of C students, he says. Later, Thomas took Schiller to Indiana and showed her where he prefers to buy police dogs. In the middle of the kennel tour, she grabbed him.
“I’m sorry, so sorry,” Schiller told him. “I just realized I went to the Dollar Store to buy dogs, and this is Saks Fifth Avenue. These are the dogs that you need.”
To Thomas and the dozens of other lawmen and -women whom Schiller has helped, she’s a hero.
“Of course I’m not,” Schiller says. “The heroes are in uniform.”