Weighing in at 70 pounds each with a total price tag of $19,000, two police dogs will make up the new Gulfport Police Department K-9 Unit.
Gulfport Police Officers David Janovich and Richard Bynum received their German Shepherds, Cezar, 19 months old and Ghost, 17 months old, in January.
At the moment, these animals are a couple of family dogs.
Starting February 15, however, both officers and dogs will attend Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Compound for a four-month patrol school where the dogs will master the art of human scent detection and learn to respond to a series of commands.
“The idea is, they want to work,” Bynum said. “We have to trust them and they trust us.”
It’s been more than 30 years since a Gulfport Police Officer worked in a K-9 team, and with two experienced handlers, the city decided to give the unit a green light.
“The main hang up that the chief had was that he wanted to make sure he had officers who knew how to work with the dogs effectively,” Janovich said.
Janovich, who is Cezar’s handler, was a police dog handler for the Pinellas Park Police Department. Bynum, Ghost’s handler, worked alongside bomb dogs in the Marine Corps during his deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Dogs are responsive; they’re on the scene fast,” Bynum said. “You really learn how to read their body language quickly.”
The Price Tag
The cost of the Gulfport Police Department’s two-dog K-9 unit, equipped with two animal-outfitted vehicles, is $65,000 in start up fees.
This includes the canines, ringing up at $9,500 each, veterinary needs and equipment, including used K-9 unit SUVs at $6,500 per vehicle.
The SUVs are equipped with a “door popper” feature that allows the officers to let the canines out of the back of the car from a button on a remote they carry with them, inside or outside the vehicle.
There are also cooling features to allow for the dogs to be in the back of the SUV despite the Florida heat.
“Our agency was due for new vehicles anyway,” Janovich said. “This is going to help us in the long run, with crime but also for community engagement.”
Not every Gulfportian agrees.
Ward I Councilmember April Thanos had concerns about this police addition when Gulfport City Council discussed it in August 2020.
“It’s not that I’m opposed to having a K-9 unit, or dogs in general,” Thanos said. “It’s just that in the time of COVID-19 we should be conserving money.”
Thanos voted “no” on the $65,000 K-9 unit during the 2020-2021 budget vote; council approved the unit, four-to-one.
“This is just a PR thing,” Thanos said. “We could have spent the money on body cameras or a new roof for the fire department.”
The two K-9 teams will be out in the field by June 10, following graduation from patrol school.
“I know the public is going to love them,” Janovich said.