After a budget freeze that left the Police Department without a K-9 unit for five years, the city has finally welcomed a four-legged officer back on to the force.
Officer Arya Lashgari and his nearly 3-year-old K-9 partner, Eso, transferred to Millbrae from the Hillsborough Police Department in December. Lashgari hopes that the transfer will help kick-start the languishing program, which should inherit a second K-9 officer by the end of this year.
Lashgari, who was with Hillsborough for seven years, is on patrol by himself until Eso completes his training. Cmdr. Marc Farber said Eso should join Lashgari in the field no later than April 1.
Millbrae police had two dogs in their K-9 program between 1997 and 2002, Farber said. One of them, Farber’s former K-9 partner, Tino, retired, and another one was taken out of commission for medical reasons. When the department came upon tough fiscal times, the K-9 program was frozen indefinitely.
K-9 officers ultimately serve as protection for the human officer and as tools for more efficient policing, Lashgari said. Their duties range widely from crowd control, to sniffing for narcotics or suspects, to community policing and education in schools.
"(Tino is) 12 years old and still going strong," Farber said. "They never really forget how to be cops."
City Manager Ralph Jaeck said Eso cost approximately $7,000 or $8,000, which was offset by a $3,000 donation from the Police Officers Association. The department also had to outfit a car with a cage and a special door, expenses that likely did not exceed $1,000, Farber said. Ongoing costs include Eso’s food expenses and medical bills.
The dogs generally undergo a monthlong training after their purchase as puppies, which can cost up to $10,000, Lashgari said. They also undergo regular training twice a month to keep their skills sharp. If Eso, for example, had never seen a slippery floor, he might be hesitant when the time came to start investigating on one, Lashgari said.
Eso is an old hand at tactical measures and has his own bulletproof vest, having been the only canine member of Hillsborough’s Special Weapons and Tactics team. Explosive-sniffing dogs are often mellow, like Eso, who is scheduled to receive narcotics training as well.
"He’s a great family dog — he knows when he’s at work and he knows when to relax at home," said Lashgari, a Redwood City resident. "We’re very close."