NORRISTOWN — Three dogs that work for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department barked and wagged their tails Monday in anticipation of finally getting the badges that show they are official members of the department.
Bikkel, Behr and Artus — all Belgian Malinois — were brought in with their handlers for a badge ceremony in the courthouse. The badges, worn as a tag on the dogs’ collars, serve as a form of identification in case the dogs get away during an investigation, and so defendants and civilians can identify them as law enforcement dogs.
“We’re here today to pin badges on all of these dogs,” Montgomery County Sheriff Russell Bono said. “The badge is a symbol of authority. It is also a symbol of recognition — recognition that these dogs have earned a place alongside of their human partners.”
The badges symbolize the sheriff’s department’s recognition of the dogs as officers, not just tools of the police department, Bono said.
“These dogs go out on the street every day, just like their handlers do, and they put their lives on the line, just like their handlers do,” he said.
The badges also serve as an extra level of protection. In the past, Bono said, criminals have gone after law enforcement dogs with no consequences; however, since the passage of Rocco’s Law — named after a Pittsburgh police dog who was fatally stabbed in the line of duty in January — criminals who think about killing or hurting a police dog will also have to think about a mandatory 10-year jail sentence and a $25,000 fine.
“Prior to this July, there was really no legislation that would protect the dogs. They were just recognized as your average mutt running around the streets,” Bono said. “They now have the protection they so much deserve.”
Commissioners’ Chairman Josh Shapiro said that when he was a state legislator, he worked on the judiciary committee to find a way to protect police dogs, and he is happy they finally have that protection.
“It is critically important that these K-9s be recognized, not just by us, but by everyone who sees them,” Shapiro said.
The department’s two drug-detection and patrol dogs, Artus and Behr, were paid for by the district attorney’s office with money that was seized and later forfeited by drug dealers who were taken into custody, District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said.
“We started talking about the K-9s and we thought it would be a wonderful addition to our courthouse community,” Ferman said.
Apart from patrolling the courthouse and working with the bomb squad, the dogs are also being used across the county to assist police departments without a K-9 unit. Most recently, the dogs have been in Lansdale to find two lost children and in Norristown to assist in finding drugs, Bono said.
The dogs, along with their handlers, are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week in case they are needed by police departments within the county. All of the dogs were acquired in the late summer or early fall of 2013. Behr and Artus cost $15,000 each, and Bikkel, the bomb-detection dog, cost $29,000. Bikkel was paid for through a Federal Homeland Security Grant.