BELDING — Reserve Deputy Erin Dean of the Kirklin Police Department in Indiana has been with her partner Cinch for nine years.
They have been in a variety of situations on the job, including some tense moments with suspects. Dean said she and Cinch have developed a bond so close that she feels like Cinch is part of her family.
Cinch is a Belgian Malinois, a breed of dog that is commonly chosen to be trained as K-9 police dogs. Dean has had Cinch since he was 7 weeks old and has spent countless hours training him for tracking, defense and whatever other situations that might arise during the course of their work together.
When Dean got in touch with the Eastern and Midwest Chapter of Vesting America’s Police K-9s, headed by Chance Vogel of Belding, about the possibility of getting Cinch a bulletproof and stab-proof vest to protect him while he’s on the job, she said it was a no-brainer.
“It comes in handy if we have something we know we’re going into like a warrant service and you know it’s an aggravated felon or we don’t really know the circumstances,” Dean said. “If we have to track a suspect that, say, just robbed a store it comes in handy to have that (vest).”
The vest, manufactured by Tread Armament & Weaponry in Utah, not only protects Cinch’s back and sides but also features a panel that extends down between his front legs to protect his chest.
“Unfortunately, throughout the nation, we’ve lost some K-9s not only to gunshots but to stabbings,” Dean said. “Basically the only things not protected are his head and his legs.”
Dean said the peace of mind from the vest is something she can’t put a price on because she doesn’t “know what she would do without (her) boy.”
“To know that he has that extra protection when he needs it … it means the world to me,” she said. “It’s really humbling and it’s an honor for me to know that there are people out there that care enough about the two-legged officer and four-legged officers.”
Vogel started the Belding chapter of the Eastern and Midwest Chapter of Vesting America’s Police K-9s about a year ago when he was 19. He has worked with several departments including one in Lansing and in Ingham County to provide these protective vests to their police dogs free of charge to the department.
“We rely on donations from people (in communities to provide the vests),” he said.
The vests that the chapter gets for K-9 officers are rated to provide protection from bullets up to .40 caliber at point-blank range, stab-proof from blades up to 4 inches and flame resistant up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Vogel.
Vogel would like to go into law enforcement and hopes to be involved with a K-9 officer if that dream is realized for him. That’s how he found the organization for Vesting America’s K-9s.
“It just happened to come up. It seemed interesting. They wanted some help with people who wanted to start chapters and I got onto it. One year later, we have 50-plus police dogs we work with, just in my chapter,” he said. “It was really nice.”
Since the chapter does rely on donations in order to purchase vests, Vogel has tried different things to get the word out about the cause, including spending some time at festivals, like the Yankee Doodle Days in Grand Ledge.
Dean was able to get Cinch vested through a donation from a Texas woman she knows who had adopted a former military dog and understood the bond between Dean and Cinch as K-9 and handler.
“The last five dogs we vested, those vests were bought (outright from various donors),” he said.
The vests cost $800 each for the chapter to purchase, although they can retail as high as $1,100. They’re manufactured in the United States. It takes about five to seven weeks for the vests to be made and shipped out to their new owners.
The Belding chapter has also looked at Montcalm and Ionia counties but found that they aren’t in need of vests for their K-9 officers.
Vests are made specifically for each dog and are lightweight, usually weighing an average of two to three pounds which Vogel said is important because too much weight in the vest can be distracting for the dog.
“Donations help because the more money we can get in, the more vests we can get out,” he said.