Student raising money for second police dog

A student whose senior project raised thousands of dollars to obtain a police dog for the Columbus Police Department is starting another effort to purchase a dog for the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.

Dylan Prather, an IUPUC student who works as a dispatcher for the county’s 911 Emergency Operations Center, has approached county officials about his plan to raise an estimated $18,000 to obtain the dog.

The county has set up a fund to accept donations, which can be dropped off or mailed to the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.

While Prather, 20, told county officials he hoped to raise the necessary funds within a month, “nothing has been set in stone,” said sheriff’s department administrator Capt. Brandon Slate.

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“There is no exact timetable,” Prather said. “But the quicker we get the dog, the sooner we can prove its worth to the community.”

Many court affidavits detailing recent drug seizures show police dogs have often provided officers the probable cause they need to search a suspected drug dealer’s vehicle.

“When they alert on something, there’s something there,” Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said.

In Prather’s senior project, he was able to obtain donations from many businesses and individuals to obtain K-9 Max for the Columbus Police Department. But it was a more than $9,000 donation from the Custer Foundation that pushed the campaign over the top.

“We’re hoping a foundation will see the need in the community and approach us,” Prather said. “But whether it takes 30 or 300 days, we’re going to do this.”

Local K-9 programs have faced their share of ups and downs in recent years.

After the sheriff’s department retired their only police dog, Futar, in January 2010, former sheriff Mark Gorbett discontinued the county’s K-9 program to reduce costs and avoid duplication of services with the city of Columbus.

However, when deputies began relying too heavily on the city’s K-9 teams, the program was brought back with the May 2012 acquisition of Bolt, a now 5-year old German shepherd and Belgian Malinois mix who continues to work third shift with his handler, Deputy Sgt. Kris Weisner.

Bolt was acquired shortly after an asset forfeiture law went into effect that allows local and state police to keep up to 80 percent of the profits from selling property seized from criminals.

But not long after Bolt was acquired, tighter restrictions on forfeiture assets were imposed.

Those restrictions were what prompted Prather to raise funds to acquire Max, a now 3-year-old Shepherd Malinois who has worked with the Columbus Police Department since May, 2014, currently with handler Officer Jeremy Jones.

Today, acquiring forfeiture money remains a “very hard and long process” for law enforcement agencies, Myers said.

Since local narcotics investigations have increased, “it’s not at all uncommon to have all (city, county and state) dog handlers tied up when a request for a K-9 is dispatched,” Slate said.

Besides tracking down narcotics, police dogs are also used for tracking and apprehending criminal suspects, hunting down evidence, finding missing persons and protecting their human handlers, Slate said.

Besides working at the 911 Emergency Operations Center, Prather also works as a IUPUC security officer and for a local funeral home as he continues taking classes.

He anticipates enrolling in an Indiana Law Enforcement Academy late next spring. While his original plan was to become a state trooper, Prather said he plans on weighing all his options next year.

The sheriff describes Prather, a 2014 Columbus North graduate, as a motivated forward-thinker and hard worker.

“Dylan is a special young man with a passion for both community service and law enforcement,” Myers said. “He’s obviously going to be a future leader.”

How to donate

Those wishing to make a contribution toward purchasing a police dog can make a check payable to the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Office. In the memo line, write K-9 Donation.

The check may be dropped off or mailed to: Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Office, 543 Second Street, Columbus, IN 47201-6713.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.