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Published: Wednesday, 9/28/2005

Erie: New partner joins force


Erie Police Chief Bill Hines is taking on a new partner this fall, one with a penchant for obedience and a nose for trouble.

Bella, an 18-month-old Czech-bred German shepherd, will take her place at Chief Hines' side within the next six weeks or so after completing the final portion of her training as a police dog, with a specialty in drug interdiction.

"We'll be patroling with her," said Chief Hines, who will be Bella's chief handler. "She was paid for out of confiscated drug forfeiture money."

Township officials said they viewed the dog's $4,000 cost as an investment in the department that they hope will pay dividends.

"Our chief seems to believe that it will definitely pay for itself," township treasurer Cindy Baum said.

Erie's Police Department has doubled in size since voters passed a 10-year, 1-mill levy in 1999 to fund the department.

The six-man - and now one dog - department responds to thousands of incidents each year across the township and heavily patrols some of Monroe County's main arteries. It also this year rolled out two personal watercraft which it uses to patrol the Lake Erie shoreline.

Mrs. Baum said she and other township board members frequently hear comments from residents about the department.

"I hear both sides. I hear people that think the police department is the best thing since sliced bread, and from others who say the police department has grown larger than what they'd like to see. But we get more positive response than negative," the township treasurer said.

Chief Hines said that when Bella completes her training and is ready to begin working the road, he's likely to concentrate drug interdiction efforts away from I-75, where other agencies like the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and Michigan State Police are out in force.

One area where Bella may come in handy one day is in the school system. School board members at Mason Consolidated are studying whether to continue to take advantage of the liaison officer program with the sheriff's department, or whether to allow the township police department to assume that responsibility locally, superintendent Marlene Mills said.

Township officials, including Supervisor Paul Mickels and Chief Hines, believe they can provide a liaison officer for the district for less money, but school officials are concerned about jurisdiction, given that the district also includes other townships and Luna Pier.

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