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Salida’s police department has a new member on their force is a two-year-old Dutch Shepherd K-9 officer named Sarge. The Salida Police Department has been actively planning and preparing for a K-9 addition for the last two years, and it’s time for the public to meet him.

Getting the right K-9 officer for the team was no easy task.  K-9 officers must be qualified for the specific needs of the area they serve and have a qualified handler and trainer to work with them on a near-daily basis.

After months of research and preparation, Salida’s police team finally found their perfect match with Sarge. His handler, Officer Alec Coscarella, was a central figure in the planning process and worked hard to take care of the necessary promotion, fundraising, and training.  Ark Valley Voice sat down with Sarge, Officer Coscarella and Chief Johnson for a Q and A to learn more about SPD’s newest team member.

Officer Coscarella and Sarge. Image by Brooke Gilmore.

What has been the most significant case since Sarge started with the Department?

“He’s been super successful thus far for us. He’s been on close to 20 deployments, probably half that is productive, meaning we had something come of it. It’s hard to choose just one case because I think everything is significant that he does, whether it’s tracking out subjects, locating missing persons, or working drug cases because everything we get off the street has the potential to escalate to a felony of some sort whether that’s a property or person” said Coscarella.

“A lot of our cases are related to drug and alcohol right now and the good thing with ridding the community with that is that we are preventing further crime in our community. I think that’s huge, to have that possibility of preventing home break-ins, trespasses, vehicle break-ins, family disturbances, domestic violence; whatever drugs and alcohol could lead to.”

“So I think it’s hard to choose one case because we’ve only been on the street for four weeks,” said Coscarella. “It’s been insane the amount of work Sarge has put in in those four weeks. I think all are pretty substantial.”

For those who don’t know what a police dog’s job is, what does Sarge do?

“Sarge is a single-purpose dog so he is trained in evidence recovery,” explained his handler.  “Sarge is trained in narcotics and the big thing with narcotics that we want our community to know is Sarge has never been introduced or imprinted on marijuana so he will never hit on marijuana alone. If there’s drugs that he is trained on, there is that possibility but the only drugs that he’s trained on are methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, MDMA, acid, and ‘shrooms. Those are his six orders. He’s been on many traffic stops where marijuana has been in the vehicle, it’s suspected, and he’ll block it ten out of ten times,” Coscarella explained.

“The other thing he is able to do is tracking. So based off Chief Johnson, our lieutenants, and sergeants, they along with me make determinations on what we’re able to track.

Our huge thing with that is missing persons; missing kids, runaways that’s our first purpose for him because he is a non-aggressive dog. But we are able to deploy him for fugitive apprehensions or subject apprehension depending on the circumstances.”

What’s his favorite treat?

“Sarge’s favorite treat is actually playing. His biggest reward is his playtime. That playtime is an interactive playtime so whenever we are working or whenever we’re playing the quickest way for him to get energy out is to get a toy and he’ll play till the cows come home.”

When out in public, when is a good time to say hello?

“People are always more than welcome to say hello. There are many times where Sarge doesn’t look like he’s working but he is working, so just a friendly ‘hey are you guys working right now?’ or ‘can I approach?’ or ‘can I pet him?’ works. As long as there’s an understanding, we’re completely fine with that.”

What has the experience been like working together?

“It’s probably been the most challenging thing I’ve done. I’ve been blessed and fortunate enough to do things with the ambulance, the fire department, and our police department. Chief[Johnson] has definitely instilled a sense of trying to produce the best product for our agency. We carry ourselves very proudly with professionalism in our community. To be able to be at the forefront of this canine program has definitely been an honor and a privilege.”

“Having a living and breathing thing at the other end of a leash that you’re responsible for outside of your own safety, the community’s safety, and people who are also doing the job with you takes a toll. We keep up with training. We’re mandated to train 16 hours a month. Sarge and I train roughly eight hours a week so we double our training, which again is something Chief Johnson has instilled – being the best and most well trained as possible.  So luckily he’s been able to give me that reign to train on and off shift,” Coscarella added.

 What is Sarge’s favorite part of the job?

“I’d say he has two favorite parts. His first and foremost is he knows as soon as his run/crate gets opened and he sees his work collar that he gets to work. He has a six-foot run in the backyard right now where we live and his head is probably three above that. He gets super excited to come to work. So just that first leap into a patrol car  and he’s just ecstatic.”

“He’s starting to realize that when the red and blues come on there’s a chance he’s getting out, so there are definitely times we will be on traffic stops or on calls for service where he’s not out of the car. When the lights go off and we start to turn around, he’ll start to whine because he gets a little jealous that he’s not out of the car. That hope, his ears are pricked, his fur goes up and he’s ready to go to work.”

Coscarella explained that Sarge loves being able to work, but his least favorite part of the job is not getting in on the action. “He has a severe fear of missing out. He loves being around the guys, he loves being around the community, he loves his pets so anytime he’s able to get interaction with community members or our department he’ll lay on his back. He loves it.”

“We’re fortunate to have the administration we have to have a successful canine program,” added Coscarella. Fortunately for us, we’re going to constantly strive to get better and we will get better on a weekly and monthly basis. We’re blessed that our city council and community had our backs on this and we’re able to get a quick return that we’ve been able to have in the last month. Hopefully, the community is able to see that.”

Chief Johnson added, “We’re appreciative of all the community support and the fundraising, that really helped us get to where we’re at.”

To stay up to date on everything Sarge is doing, readers can follow him on Instagram or Facebook. “We want the community to interact with him as much as they can,” Coscarella added.