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    Hazel Park police win free SUV for K-9 program

    A K-9 team at the Hazel Park Police Department will have a new SUV, after the south Oakland County police department earned the most votes in an online contest.

    The contest was held by a Massachusetts-based nonprofit called Vested Interest in K9s. Founder and president Sandy Marcal created the organization in 2009, and describes herself as a “lifelong animal lover.”

    The nonprofit helps police departments with K-9 units fill gaps in their resources, such as medical insurance, ballistic vests, first aid kits and naloxone that reverses opioid overdoses.

    Vested Interest in K9s held its first SUV giveaway last year, Marcal said, “because departments don’t have the budget for replacement vehicles,” which can cost in the mid-five figures.

    Beyond that, K-9-equipped SUVs have to have climate control, a “dedicated kennel system,” racks to hold equipment, Marcal said. The vehicle will be four-wheel drive.

    Perhaps most importantly of all, they require climate control, as the dogs could be in the vehicle 12 hours a day, said Lt. William Hamel of the Hazel Park Police Department.

    Officer Michael Kasdorf and K-9 Lando will ride in the customized Chevy Tahoe once it arrives, which could be months from now, Marcal said.

    “We’re thrilled for (Hazel Park) and excited for the dog,” Marcal said.

    Hazel Park police made a very public push for votes, both on social media and in the community. Businesses allowed police to post fliers encouraging people to vote, and a digital billboard on Interstate 75 helped spread the message, Hamel said.

    Lando’s duties are mostly tracking, narcotics detection and protection. K-9s, Hamel said, “can be a costly unit” when you consider veterinarian bills, food, and the vehicle necessary to maintain its presence on the roads.

    Though Hazel Park earned the most votes — Marcal declined to say how many — it won’t be the only police department, or even the only one in Michigan, to receive a free SUV.

    An “anonymous sponsor” stepped forward, putting up the funds for a second vehicle, which will go to Marysville Police Department Officer Justin Reeves and partner Heiko.

    Marysville is in nearby St. Clair County, about 50 miles north and east of Hazel Park.

    “It’s nice to see them get one, too,” Hamel said.

    To be eligible, a police department had to have received a K-9 vest from the nonprofit in the past, has to make a commitment to continuing its K-9 program for another three years and has to have at least 60,000 miles on its current vehicle, Marcal said.

    Four of the contest’s 29 finalists hailed from the Great Lakes State, Marcal said. Voting ran through the month of October.

    “You’ve got people who are not just supportive of law enforcement, but of animals,” Hamel said, when asked why Michigan-based departments earned so many of the top spots. “They see the work these dogs can do. They want to make sure they’re provided for.”

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