A donation of $21,000 by local entrepreneurs Steven and Elana Willett has allowed the Johnstown Police Department to purchase a new vehicle for its K-9 unit.
Steven Willett, who owns Partner’s Pub in Johnstown and Wireworks Inc. in Mayfield, said he made several donations of money to Fulton County nonprofits in 2008 in honor of his mother, Lorraine Willett.
“I asked the city what they needed most. They needed a K-9 unit,” Willett said.
Johnstown Police Officer Adam Schwabrow operates the vehicle, a 2008 Chevrolet Impala, and works with his department’s K-9 officer, Spike, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois. He said the new car has had its backseat area removed and replaced with a dog crate compartment to ensure the animal’s safety in the event of a car accident.
“The city didn’t have the money to go out and get the vehicle after we had purchased the dog. Normally the chief would try to buy two vehicles per year but the money that would have been allocated for a vehicle we used to buy Spike,” Schwabrow said. “We had an old 2003 Chevy Impala with 115,000 miles on it. It would have worked for a year but it wasn’t adequate for what we needed.”
Spike cost the city $12,000 because he came fully trained for a range of capabilities helpful to the department. He has advanced drug detection skills, enabling him to sniff out marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, crack and heroin among other narcotics. He can track criminals, attack or defend Schwabrow on command, search articles of clothing and find people hidden in buildings.
“We didn’t have to teach him anything. Basically I went out to Ohio for five weeks to learn how to use him,” Schwabrow said.
Police Chief Greg Horning said his department probably gets five or six calls for the K9 unit per month.
“We were fortunate with Steve’s donation to really equip the K9 unit with a brand new dependable vehicle,” Horning said.
Horning said Johnstown Police Department has long used K9 units to upgrade its capabilities. He said in the 1990s the department started using Belgian Malinois, known for being durable without some of the hip problems associated with German shepherds.
“[These dogs] have worked out extremely well,” he said.
Schwabrow said Spike has been trained to respond to commands given in Dutch.
Horning said the city of Johnstown pays for Spike’s food and medical care and, because of a law he called the Garcia Act, the department pays Schwabrow a stipend of time and a half the federal minimum wage to compensate him for taking care of the dog outside of work. The stipend is usually about $800 per year.
Schwabrow said Spike recently proved his worth to the department by helping them apprehend individuals charged with burglarizing a convenience store.
“The kids had taken off on foot and headed into the woods. Spike was able to track them down and locate them so we could make the arrest,” he said.
The department also uses Spike for demonstrations at local schools.
“He’s a great public relations tool for us,” Horning said.