GREENFIELD — A $250,000 gift from the estate of a former Greenfield resident will expand the city’s police dog program and cover its costs for the next 25 years.
Local police officers say they never met Shirley Gibbs and don’t know what moved her to support their cause. They’ve found out little about her other than hearing she worked as a greeter at Walmart on State Street for 25 years while she lived in Greenfield. But when she died in 2014 at age 76 in Westfield, she left behind a $1.7 million estate with a list of beneficiaries.
The trust is being split among the Greenfield-Central School Corp., Greenfield Police Department, Westfield-Washington School Corp. and the Westfield Police Department, city attorney Tom Billings said
About $250,000 will be given to the Greenfield Police Department’s K-9 program, with the department receiving about $10,000 a year until the funding runs out, Billings said.
The gift enables leaders to double the force from two dogs to four and fund the program well into the future, Police Chief Jeff Rasche said.
The city’s board of works gave Rasche permission to purchase two dogs; two officers, Patrolmen Stephen Kalk and Caleb Freeman, have already volunteered to be their handlers.
The dogs will likely be purchased with funding from the local option income tax fund, which can be spent only on public safety expenses. But going forward, dogs will be cared for and purchased with the funding left by Gibbs.
Currently, the force has two police dogs: Bak, a Czech shepherd, is handled by Patrolman Jerami Summers, while Eragon, a Malinois, is partnered with Patrolman Chris Borgmann, who works alongside the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.
The new dogs will be trained for search and tracking missions and to sniff for drugs or other evidence. They’ll also be on hand for public events, like the Riley Festival, to interact with the community.
Bak has worked with the department since 2010, so he’s nearing the end of his career, Rasche said. He’ll probably work about two more years before retiring. Police dogs work an average of eight to 10 years.
With only one K-9 working city streets, Rasche knew early in his tenure he wanted to add dogs to the department’s roster. But he wasn’t sure where the estimated $15,000 needed to purchase each dog and train it and the handler would come from.
Then he got word the police department was an heir of Gibb’s charitable trust.
City officials haven’t learned much about Gibbs or her family; an obituary doesn’t list any living relatives.
But they say they didn’t need to meet Gibbs to feel grateful to her. The estate is working its way through the court system now, but proceedings should be wrapped up soon.
“I don’t know who Ms. Gibbs is, but it was awfully kind of her to be thinking about us and our community and officers,” Rasche said. “This K-9 program is very valuable to us.”
The department has operated with three police dogs in the past, Rasche said. They’ve very valuable to officers patrolling city streets and those working drug enforcement.
Having three on hand ensures a dog is available for every shift in Greenfield, he said. Borgmann’s office is based in Indianapolis, and Eragon travels the state with him.
With $10,000 a year coming to the department from Gibbs, Rasche can maintain the program, paying for the dogs’ care and saving to replace dogs when they’re ready to retire. And those expenses won’t burden taxpayers, he said.
The department plans to tap Ultimate Canine of Westfield to train the two new members of the force.
Ultimate Canine specializes in training police dogs and service dogs, trainer Julie Case told the Greenfield City Council. Twenty-one dogs trained by Case and her team work across the state, she said.
Locally, the facility trained Reno, a sheriff’s department dog trained to sniff out narcotics, including heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana, as well as all types of guns and bullets in the Hancock County Jail.
Beyond his work in the jail, Reno is a social pup, too. He’s followed his handler, Maj. Brad Burkhart, to events and happenings around the county and has even attended county commissioner meetings.
That’s the type of dog Rasche is looking to introduce to the department. Some police dogs, especially those trained to apprehend suspects, don’t have the friendly demeanor needed to interact with the public.
Case will find the right dogs for the department, she said, and training them takes about three to six months depending on the dog’s age.
Kalk and Freeman will also spend about two weeks training with their new partners before they hit the streets together.