Grovetown’s newest public safety officer won’t be driving a patrol car, but will be riding in the back seat instead.
Chico, a 3-year-old Belgian malinois, joined the force on June 11. The laid-back dog is partnered with Cpl. Joseph Greene.
“He’s very sociable,” Greene said of his new partner and roommate. “He loves attention.”
Chico is a former military dog trained to sniff out bombs and drugs. While Chico wasn’t vicious enough for duty at Fort Benning, his friendly disposition is exactly what Director Gary Owens was hoping for.
“He just wasn’t aggressive enough for them” Owens said. “That’s what we needed. That’s perfect.”
Chico and Greene will go to Chatham County this summer to become certified as a team for drug detection. He’ll be a dual-purpose dog, trained to track lost items and people, and perform more basic functions such as handler protection.
His friendly disposition also makes Chico a great ambassador for the department. Owens said he’ll likely do demonstrations at schools and events.
“That’s the good thing about him,” Greene said. “We didn’t want him too aggressive, where he’s trying to get out of the car and scare everybody. But at the same time, we want him to do his job and protect his handler and not be scared of the criminals.
“We were very lucky and fortunate to get him. I think he’s perfect for the department.”
A canine wasn’t in the current department budget, so Owens said he had been looking for grants and to possibly use money seized by the department to pay for the average cost for one of the working dogs, $10,000-$15,000, plus additional training.
That’s when Greene found Chico. Because he wasn’t quite the right temperament for the military work, Chico was donated to the department.
“It’s all free,” Owens said.
The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office donated specialized equipment for Chico to ride in the back of a patrol car.
Chico is not the department’s first canine officer, but he is the first in about a decade.
Owens said a drug-detecting dog would be a great asset to the department considering how close the city is to Interstate 20 and the city’s rapidly growing population.
“I think we’ve gotten to the point in law enforcement that if a tool is available, you’ve got to use it,” Owens said. “It was time to re-implement our tool and get back into the dog business.”
Owens said that Chico alerting his handler to possible drugs gives that officer probable cause to search a car, home or person.
It would allow officers to act on a situation that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
“It’s just one more thing in our toolbox to help us out,” Owens said.
Owens said he would like to cross-train Chico to sniff out explosives or get a second dog.
But right now, he’s fine with paying his newest employee with games of tug with Chico’s favorite toy.
“That’s his payday,” Owens said. “That’s his motivation.”