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“Being a rural county, we not only have the users but we have the growers, the sellers, and those are the people we're trying to keep off of the streets,” Ward described.
Ward is now one of two K9 officers on the force. He and Maverick, his shepherd companion, are called into Portage two to three times a week. He says the infrastructure running right into town makes it a convenient place to transport illegal cargo.
“We have three different interstates and numerous state highways running right through Portage,” Ward said. “It makes it an easy thoroughfare for people trying to get from Chicago to Minneapolis or from Madison to Tomah, up to Stevens Point, they all essentially come through Portage to get to those locations.”
Sargent Ben Neumann with Portage Police knows that truth all too well.
“I thought it was on us now to take on this responsibility and we need to go out and we need to start combatting this problem,” Neumann said.
In 2013 alone, Portage officer looked into three deaths with drugs as a factor. The department also arrested 13 people on the suspicion of Operating Under the Influence of Drugs and handled at least 239 calls linked to illegal narcotics.
Neumann devised a solution: the department’s very own K9 unit, something it hasn’t had in decades.
The city agreed to cover a special vehicle for the dog as well as the introductory equipment, but the rest of the $50,000 cost will have to come from other sources.
“It's not a cheap adventure,” Neumann explained, “but once it's going, it can become self-sustaining either through the continued community involvement, but also through asset forfeitures and things like that that we come across as a result of arrests and things like that.”
Through social media and word of mouth, the department has already raised half of the $15,000 they need to bring a K9 on board. Part of that fundraising is happening through a Go Fund Me site.
“It almost, I think in my opinion, makes them feel involved or a part of this program getting up and running, saying hey, I contributed to this. I helped this get going,” Neumann said.
Like Maverick with Columbia County, Neumann says the dog will be duel-purpose, meaning it will be trained to also track missing persons and important evidence. Neumann is also looking forward to connecting with the community with a four-legged friend by his side.
“It's to show, hey you helped participate getting this program for us. Come out and see it! Come out, pet the dog, be a part of it, meet and greet with us. That's what we want,” Neumann said.
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