Officer Stephen Richardson with Buster at a recent KPD open house. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Of the Keizertimes

The way Sgt. Andrew Copeland sees it, the Keizer Police Department recently got a two-for-one deal.

Buster was recently put into service as the KPD’s new K-9 dog, replacing the now-retired Axel. Officer Stephen Richardson is Buster’s handler while Axel settles into his new role as the Richardson family pet.

There is a key difference between Buster and Axel: the new dog is cross-trained to be both a tracking dog and to search for drugs. Axel, as well as the other KPD K-9 Bas, only did the former.

“When you have agencies our size, when you can get the most effectiveness out of one dog, that’s huge for us,” said Copeland, the K-9 sergeant. “Buster can do two separate things. That makes him cost effective. It wouldn’t be cost effective for a department our size to get a dog just for drugs.”

When Axel’s health started to deteriorate, the K-9 unit at KPD made a proposal to get a cross-trained dog.

“Our trainer sells more cross-trained than single-trained dogs,” Copeland said. “They are very common in the U.S., but not as common in Oregon.”

Copeland said a cross-trained dog doesn’t cost more than a regular tracking dog, but there is extra cost associated with the additional training. The hope is to replace Bas with a cross-trained dog down the road as well.

“Stephen is a very good dog handler,” Copeland said. “Axel was exceptional, just a great dog. Stephen made him a great dog. (Buster) is a great one to begin with. He’s a very good dog at both disciplines. Consistent training is what it takes and Stephen will do that. He puts a lot of effort into the training.”

Police chief Marc Adams likened the training to a college student.

“This dog went to grad school and studied narcotics,” Adams said.

Copeland said Buster will get more use due to his training.

“He will probably get used twice as much,” Copeland said. “A tracking dog is only used when a suspect has fled. Buster will serve both purposes. There were a couple of times in recent months where it would have been wonderful to have a cross-trained dog.”

As mentioned in last week’s Keizertimes, Buster will be used for random drug searches at McNary High School.

“It really keeps the kids accountable,” Copeland said. “It’s important to get kids to know that at any moment we could be having a dog going down the hall. It’s a good tool for us and hopefully a good diversion.”