"It's (the K-9 program) just another tool in our box," said Chief Drew Juden, DPS director. "It gives us flexibility to investigate the very serious crimes."
After a two-and-a-half year absence from the DPS, Juden reinstated the program last August. The canine, whose name is SYR, and his handler, Kevin Stafford, were required to participate in a training program before hitting the streets of Sikeston. Stafford said the training consisted of 320 hours, five days per week for three months.
Stafford and the 2-year-old canine began patrolling the streets of Sikeston on Dec. 21. Since then the duo has helped seize 2,300 grams of marijuana, 2,261 grams of cocaine and 12-1/4 grams of methamphetamine. A total of $61,039.43 in U.S. currency was seized, which all ready makes up for the cost of the dog and the training, a value Stafford estimated at $20,000.
The most common use of the dog is for narcotic detection. The majority of the drugs seized over the last few months were through car stops, Stafford said. In a car stop, the dog is walked by the handler around the car. If the dog detects drugs, he will scratch on the car or give an indication to its handler.
Other uses of the canine are tracking criminals and protecting officers. Stafford describes the way the dog can track drugs by using the example of a supreme pizza. "To us, we just see the whole pizza, but the dog is able to pull out the pepperoni, the sausage, the peppers and so on," he explained.
One tip the public should know is to never tease the dog if they see him in public. "Just act normal and never pet the dog," Stafford advised. "I really want to stress to everyone that they should never taunt or bark at the dog. Taunting and barking at the dog could result in a $500 fine or jailtime -- or both. He's an officer. He wears a badge just like the rest of us."
Juden said Sikeston City Manager Doug Friend and the City Council were instrumental in supporting the program. The K-9 program is something Juden said he has always felt strongly about. Juden called the program beneficial and an asset to the community. Plus, it's a great deterrent of crime.
"He's like a second officer," Juden said. "We have the ability to use the dog where we may not want to put other officers in danger."
Stafford said his job as canine handler is a 24-hour job, but admits he knew that before he got into the job. He is constantly on call and is the only officer who SYR responds to. So anytime an emergency comes up, Stafford and SYR have to go to the scene.
For this reason, Juden and Stafford said a possible goal for the future is getting another dog. "We have to see how the program works out," Juden said. "Right now we have two power shifts, which overlap into the regular schedule. We use SYR about six to eight hours a day, but if we had two dogs, we could have a dog available for about 20 hours a day because they could split shifts.
"If Stafford and SYR get called out when they're at home, it may take a while for them to get out on the street," Juden explained. "If we had two dogs, one would always be right there on the scene."
While Stafford's job currently consists of long hours and hard work, he insisted there is no other place he'd rather be.
"This is what I've always wanted to do," Stafford said. "I wouldn't trade this job for any in the world." He joked, "Well, other than the chief's."