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Cloquet police adding second K9

Cloquet Police Department Detective/Sgt. Scott Holman and dog Raja take a break from their busy day for a photo. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 2
Cloquet Police Department K9 Raja sits in front of several suitcases full of drugs. This happened during a traffic stop and investigation. Raja was used last fall to conduct a free-air sniff of a vehicle, where approximately 12 pounds of marijuana was recovered. Submitted photo2 / 2

A second K9 is on the way for the Cloquet Police Department.

Officer Laci Silgjord will be the new pup's handler. The dogs run through a series of tests before being matched up with the appropriate law enforcement agency. Once this is done, the department will be notified with the details. Until then, they wait.

"I am looking forward to this rare opportunity. Only a small percentage of officers get the opportunity to be a K9 handler over the course of their career," Silgjord said. "I have always loved animals and always wanted to be a police officer, so this is a perfect combination."

Her husband is a K9 handler for St. Louis County Sheriff's Office, so she is already accustomed to living with a K9. She has accompanied him to K9 events as well as certifications over the years and understands what it takes to be a handler.

The new K9 will accompany Silgjord on patrol.

"This (new) dog will be a single purpose narcotic detection K9," Silgjord said. "The dog will be available for mutual aid to other officers and surrounding agencies who request the assistance of a K9."

The dogs are trained and used for different purposes, depending on the needs of the individual area. In some cities, dogs are trained in multiple areas, such as tracking, detection and handler protection.

The current CPD dog, Raja, a Dutch shepherd — a cousin of the German shepherd breed — is a single-use K9 that has been trained in drug detection. Raja is assigned to the Detective Division with her handler, Detective/Sgt. Scott Holman.

Holman has been a K9 handler for 18 years and is a member of the Lake Superior Drug Task Force.

"The Drug Task Force is a federally funded task force that is composed of several area law enforcement agencies who work together to combat the area drug epidemic," Chief Jeff Palmer explained. They pool their resources, including Raja, to conduct drug investigations.

Raja is most often used in the Cloquet area.

"Raja finds hidden narcotics and saves the department time and money," Holman said. He said using Raja saves considerable time and manpower, which in turn saves the city and taxpayers money.

For example, if officers have stopped a vehicle and have a strong suspicion drugs may be inside, but do not have permission to search the vehicle, they call in Holman and Raja.

She walks around the outside of the vehicle and alerts the officers if she detects the odor of any drugs inside.

"Scott's K9 is assigned to the Detection Division and is utilized in investigations, search warrants, suspicious packages (Post Office)," Palmer explained. "His dog is and will continue to be used on the street when requested and when the new K9 is not on duty. Both K9s will overlap in duties, but the new K9s main focus will be drug interdiction and public outreach."

"Getting the second dog will double the availability of a K9 as we currently only have one K9 working for the city of Cloquet and Scanlon," Silgjord said. "The K9 and I will work a rotating shift to help every shift have access to the K9. We know that drug dealers and drug trafficking do not work a Monday-through-Friday schedule."

From May 30, 2017, to May, 30, 2018, the CPD helped remove a total of 12.5 pounds of methamphetamine off the streets with a street value of $284,802, as well as 1.58 ounces of heroin valued at $7,988, 2 grams of cocaine and 17.65 pounds of marijuana valued at $52,950 — a total street value of $345,940. During the same time frame, they seized $90,322 in cash.

Holman and Raja attend training classes monthly as well as certification every year.

The new dog will arrive with some training already completed. Once the new dog arrives, Silgjord will train with it. The new dog will cost about $8,000, which includes costs of training and transportation from overseas. The cost of the new K9 was included in the budget.

She is excited for the new dog.

"I want to also focus on building community relations, special community events and appearances in our schools as a deterrent to kids bringing drugs into our schools," Silgjord said.

Grant nominations sought for K9 units

The CPD is seeking nominations for the Aftermath K9 Grant.

There are eight prizes awarded totalling $16,500. Participants can vote once every 12 hours.

According to the website, "the Aftermath K9 Grant was founded to showcase, support and reward the unique contributions made by K9 units across the country and, indirectly, to recognize and support the communities that we both serve. The contest awards grants to new or established K9 programs for maintenance, safety equipment or officer training."

Voting ends Monday, Nov. 5. Winners will be announced Wednesday, Nov. 7.