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Wanted: 4-Legged Replacement for Famed Police Dog

July 21, 1994|JEFF KASS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Palos Verdes Estates police are searching for a four-legged officer to replace Bandit, the hillside city's award-winning police dog whose popularity spawned a baseball-style trading card.

The German shepherd's back legs were paralyzed during surgery in April to relieve back pain, and he was given little chance of returning to police work. He now uses an apparatus with wheels to move around.

So it came as no surprise when Police Chief Gary Johansen said the department began searching for a new dog last week. Johansen plans to make a formal request to the City Council for a new dog next month. Mayor James Nyman expected the council to support the request.

"People in our community love Bandit . . . and they really love the idea of having a police dog," Nyman said.

Estimates for buying a new dog run from $5,000 to $10,000, and training the dog and officer would cost another $1,500. The yearly budget to maintain a dog is $20,000 to $25,000, given expenses such as food, veterinarian bills and extra pay for a canine unit officer, Johansen said.

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Although the Palos Verdes Peninsula is not known for its high crime rates, Johansen said a police dog is important because it can search large areas--such as fields and homes--in minutes, while officers may take hours. City officials also maintain that a police dog is good for public relations, often taken on visits to schoolchildren and to other cities.

Bandit, whose trading card touts his gold, silver and bronze medals at the California Police Olympics, was often used without charge by other police departments because of mutual aid agreements and because there was not enough work in Palos Verdes Esates to keep him sharp, said Lt. Ed Jaakola.

Palos Verdes Estates residents make no bones about their support for a police dog. A local group, Supporting Residents for the Canine Program, has already raised more than $3,000 for Bandit's replacement, said businessman Fred Lami(, who is involved in fund-raising efforts. Lami said another $3,000 has been pledged.

He said the group's goal is to raise enough money for two dogs, which the department once had.

Lami added that police dogs are not only crime-solvers but wage-earners.

Indeed, police dogs may net a department money by helping find drugs. A controversial forfeiture law allows police to seize items bought with money earned through drug dealing.

Jaakola said Bandit has taken part in drug raids, but he could not pinpoint how much money those busts have netted the department.

Almost synonymous with Bandit was his handler, Officer Joe Hall. But Johansen said he will first consider requests from all interested officers before choosing the next canine officer.

Meantime, an official with local animal rights groups said the groups do not object to using dogs for police work.

"At least if they're well-treated, we certainly couldn't object from a humane point of view," said Madeline Bernstein, executive director of the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Southern California Humane Society.

But she said she would oppose dog training methods that emphasize cruelty and punishment.

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