Lodi's police dogs are often called upon to risk their lives to protect their partners. Now they have body armor to help protect themselves.
Thanks to the concern of some local dog lovers, the police dogs have the use of a ballistic vest which is bullet and stab resistant.
The vest is made from the same material - Kevlar - as the vests worn by police officers, and should offer additional protection to the dogs which are often sent in for close contact with dangerous suspects.
Their new equipment is courtesy of WestAmerica Bank.
Christa Steele, of Lodi, is a vice president of the Stockton branch, and she got the idea from her friend and neighbor, Marie Miller, who belongs to the Central Valley Top Dog Club, based in Lathrop.
The group formed when a number of friends began to walk their dogs together, and shared their affection and admiration for their four-legged companions.
They raised funds and purchased two vests for Lathrop police dogs and when Miller told Steele about it, Steele immediately began to search for a way to do the same for Lodi's dogs.
Her husband is a California Highway Patrol officer and her father was in law enforcement. Her family pets have always been retired police dogs.
Steele requested and received approval from the bank's donations committee, and presented a check for $659 to the dog club, which in turn purchased the vest. Their plan is to provide vests to every agency with dogs in San Joaquin County.
The club had researched options and most manufacturers were making custom-fitted vests at a cost of around $1,200 each. The model chosen, manufactured by International Armor Co. in Oceanside, is interchangeable for all the dogs, and costs roughly half the amount of the custom-fitted vests.
The vest is built to stop most rounds officers encounter today as well as edged weapon attacks such as icepicks and knives.
Officer Brian Freeman, whose Dutch shepherd, Tosca, came into the line of fire in the dramatic arrest of alleged gunman Jacob Torres last February, said no Lodi canine had been injured in a way that would have been prevented by a vest, and then emphatically added, "yet."
Tosca, a female Dutch shepherd, and Sam, a German shepherd, are the department's two SWAT dogs, and so will likely be the most frequent users of the vest, which is adjustable to fit most large dogs.
"Since all the dogs aren't on at the same time, we will get a lot of use out it," Freeman said.
The vest will be accessible at all times so that if a patrol dog is called into a dangerous situation, the animal can be "suited up" quickly, he said.
Officer Ken Slater demonstrated the new equipment with his partner, Solo, who seemed unfazed by the saddle-like addition to his uniform, which ordinarily consists of just a collar and badge.
Secured with Velcro, the vest covers the spine, ribs and chest of the animal - areas which would be most frequent targets of attack, Cpl. Chris Jacobsen said.
The vest is remarkably lightweight, and has a five-year guarantee.
Once "deployed," or struck by a weapon, its efficacy is reduced.
"The donation of this vest was an act of generosity that we very much appreciate," Lodi Police Chief Jerry Adams said. "Sometimes these dogs are in more danger than the officers, and this just gives them an added level of protection.
"These gals are the real heroes," he added, nodding toward the three club members who came to present the vest.
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