PD plans for canine retirement

One of the topics discussed around the Princeton City Council work session table Sept. 6 was the inevitable retirement of Skar, the Police Department’s 7-year-old K-9 officer. 

Skar’s partner and handler, officer Jason Cederberg, and Police Chief Todd Frederick explained how after Skar’s nearly six years serving the force, Cederberg has noted some concerns with the dog’s health during the past few months. They agreed to plan for him to retire in 2019 and came before the council for its permission to get on a waiting list for a replacement dog.

Frederick stated there is concern that if the department does not get on the waiting list now with Performance Kennels, it may not be able to get a replacement dog before it’s time for Skar to retire.

Frederick said use of a K-9 has been “tremendous” for the department. He and Cederberg explained how dogs can be trained for one or several of three main things: to patrol, to detect narcotics and to find explosives.

Skar does patrol and narcotics detection, including marijuana, methamphetamine, mushrooms, crack, cocaine, heroin and MDM; he also trains on new drugs that enter the scene. Cederberg said a dual-purpose dog is more difficult to find, get and train than a single-purpose dog.

A possible schedule outlined in the memo was to get on the waiting list by December, possibly receive the new dog in March or April and then complete training by about June or July of 2019. Skar’s retirement would coincide with completion of the new dog’s training.

The officers said Skar’s training was a total of 15 weeks with about 11 for patrol and four for narcotics. Cederberg said this time, the intent would be to complete both kinds of training within a total of 12 weeks.

Frederick’s memo explained how costs will be handled. The department has secured donations to cover about $13,000 of the $15,000 cost. The dog costs $9,000, while the training totals $6,000.

Within the capital improvement plan, it was evident that the vehicle to accommodate a canine officer costs about $15,000 more to outfit than a typical squad. The plan shows the K-9 vehicle will be up for replacement in 2019.

The department must also account for the time Cederberg will be off the force and away at training, an overtime cost of about $3,500, which Frederick said could be covered with money from drug-related forfeitures. Frederick said it’s possible community donations will cover all the costs, as was the case when Skar joined the force.

Skar wasn’t the department’s first K-9 officer, but he was the first in a number of years. His name is a derivative of the late Bryan J. Opskar, who grew up in Princeton, became a Marine and was killed in action in Iraq.

Cederberg keeps statistics on the training hours with Skar: 998 on-duty hours and 1,560 off-duty hours. Frederick said the community seems supportive of the K-9, and people comment about how they don’t want to revert back to not having a dog. He said there are many success stories about Skar finding missing people and detecting narcotics.

A memo by Cederberg states that Skar has been on some 300 calls made specifically for K-9 unit services such as tracking people, securing perimeters, finding drugs, searching schools and finding missing people. The document cites several examples from over the years: found and apprehended a dangerous assault suspect, detected large amounts of methamphetamine, tracked fleeing burglars in possession of drugs, found a shotgun hidden in the woods after it was involved in an incident, and found a theft and drug suspect who had fled far and hidden in swamp.

Princeton Finance Director Steve Jackson said Cederberg has done a good job of getting donations to support Skar, such as the dog itself, as well as the partners’ training time and special equipment. Mayor Paul Whitcomb said there’s “no doubt” Skar and Cederberg are an asset to the community.

Council Member Jules Zimmer said, “It takes a real special person to be a handler and we’re real fortunate to have someone like you to do this.”

“It’s been a blast,” responded Cederberg. “The best part of my career has been working the dog.”