York Police Department's new K-9 officer is city's first in ten years

York police introduces new canine unit
Published: Dec. 7, 2016 at 2:54 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 7, 2016 at 4:02 AM EST
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YORK, SC (WBTV) - Tigris is a stand-out for York Police. The two year old Dutch Shepherd is the department's one and only K-9 officer.

"A K-9 unit for a department… I can't even explain what kind of a great tool it is for, drugs for one, illegal substances," said Lance Corporal Keith Johnson.

Johnson, Tigris' handler, said the dog became a officer about two months ago.

"First two hours of the shift on day one of being out, we had our first drug bust on a traffic stop," said Johnson, who added his partner sniffed marijuana. "Officers could not smell it when they approached the vehicle. When I approached the vehicle without her I could not smell it. As we completed the sniff around the vehicle she alerted."

Johnson said it's been about ten years since the department had a canine unit. Now that the city of York is growing, he said the department needs some help.

"It's sad to say, but drugs is my thing. I love finding them. I love getting them off the street. They do so much damage to families and people that use the drugs," Johnson said. "Yeah, yeah, there's drugs in small-town York, just as there is Charlotte or Rock Hill. It may not be the quantity of drugs that you find in Charlotte or Rock Hill or Atlanta, California for instance, but we have them and it's a huge thing now."

Johnson and Tigris patrol the streets together in a cruiser.

"We come on shift in the mornings, come in for our meetings. We answer calls. We got the normal break-ins, traffic accidents.We go out and monitor school traffic, make sure traffic flows at the schools, people are obeying speed limits," he said.

"If there's known drugs in a home or a building and there's a search warrant," he continued, "we'll go and search the building after the search warrant is done. We'll use her on traffic stops through the day. When we stop a vehicle - just a random traffic stop... sniffs the vehicles, the exterior of the vehicle which doesn't violate anybody's rights."

While the two keep an eye out for drugs, Johnson said Tigris can sniff and find other things as well.

"Gun, knife, ammunition, that sort of thing," he said. "She was trained. She was purchased out of NC - Morganton. Completely trained in odors of different narcotics - marijuana, heroin, ecstasy, crack, meth, trained for article searches."

Johnson isn't just Tigris' handler. A nurse who recently made a career change, Johnson owns the dog. He said he spent about $6,000 on her.

"I already wanted to be a K-9 officer. I had her when I came here. In my interview I asked if they would hire and put her on the job as well," he said.

Department leaders said they couldn't bring Tigris at the time.

"It could almost be impossible for a small department to have a K-9 unit," Johnson said. "You have the expense of the vehicle, course a properly trained animal could cost you anywhere from 5 to 10 [to] 12,000 dollars, then you have upkeep, hours for training. Vehicle alone - we're unable to transport prisoners because the whole back is just for canine. You get a lot of expense incurred for having one."

But York Police eventually agreed to get Tigris.

Johnson said the department leases Tigris from him, and the city covers the dog's insurance. Police paid for the K-9 cruiser and outfitted the car.

"If she finds drugs and I can get a person clean," Johnson said, "I  did the greater good in my community to help someone, to save someone's life."

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