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'Grounded' police helicopter used in search for police dog

9:56 PM, Jan 8, 2010   |    comments
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The patrol dog, named Duke, ran away from its handler's home near Evergreen on Friday when the dog spotted a deer.

When several officers could not find the animal, Whitman ordered the department's helicopter to join the search.

According to the approved 2010 city budget, taxpayers will save $473,800 by "grounding the helicopter unit."

9Wants To Know Investigator Kyle Clark asked police spokesman Lt. Matt Murray why a "grounded" helicopter was still flying on Friday.

"We've made numerous sacrifices in the interest of public safety and officer safety to keep that helicopter flying," Murray said.

The helicopter is paid for through the chief's portion of the budget, Murray said. That means if a dollar is spent on the helicopter, a dollar must be saved elsewhere in the chief's budget.

Therefore, Murray said, the helicopter is flying less frequently than in past years, but is still used in certain situations.

Murray explained the decision to launch the helicopter to find the missing police dog.

"A police dog is not just a pet. It's a tool. An expensive tool," he said. "It's also a liability."

Murray noted that in addition to the expense of buying and training a new dog, Duke might have bitten a civilian if threatened or scared.

"The questions tomorrow would be: Why didn't you use your helicopter when you could have possibly saved this situation and found that dog?" Murray said.

The aerial search for Duke cost a little more than $1,000, Murray said. He did not have totals on the ground officers involved in the search.

"This was an important mission to fly. It really is a public safety mission. This isn't somebody's pet. We had to find this dog," Murray said.

Duke was found, not by the helicopter, but by a private citizen who spotted him and called police.

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