Vicksburg police officers get new, four-legged friend|[10/28/06]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 28, 2006

Six months after the Vicksburg Police Department’s K-9 was put on medical leave, another has taken his place.

Bret, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois, arrived at police headquarters Monday from Jackson’s Alpha Canine Training Center. Although Bret’s predecessor, 11-year-old Tongo, has not retired, it virtually marks the end of service for the K-9 that helped his handler find more than $630,000 during a traffic stop in August 2002.

Bo McLeod, a patrolman with the department’s investigation division, was alongside Tongo, also a Belgian Malinois, that day. Together, they found about $15,000 under the hood of the truck. After it was towed and partially disassembled by city workers, $617,555 in $50 and $100 bills was found in watertight packaging in the gas tank.

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The driver of the late-model Chevrolet Avalanche, Michael Gregory, then 57, was held briefly by police and released after paying a $65 ticket for careless driving.

The truck and money were seized, and the Avalanche is still being used by the police department and the money is still being used by the city.

Overall, McLeod said, Tongo has racked up an impressive resume: 195 days of training; 21 criminal apprehensions; 92 drug arrests; 884 pounds of marijuana seized; and 640 kilos of cocaine seized. He also appeared in the Miss Mississippi Pageant in 2002 and worked with the Warren County Sheriff’s Department, Mississippi Highway Patrol, Mississippi Department of Transportation and Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.

Tongo began working for the police department in October 1999. He was forced out of service after a veterinarian diagnosed him with degenerative joint disease.

&#8220But we were having problems with him before that,” said McLeod, who began working with Tongo in 2002.

The K-9 remains at McLeod’s home, though, and Bret will join him while off duty, the officer said. Bret’s four-week training course is to start Monday.

The Vicksburg Kennel Club paid $8,500 for Bret, and the city paid the remainder of the $12,000 cost.

&#8220I went to the Vicksburg Kennel Club and asked for assistance” in purchasing the dog, McLeod said. &#8220They said they would be willing to help and went to different kennel clubs.”

The K-9 is considered a &#8220dual-purpose” officer, meaning he will be used for narcotics detection and patrol. Tongo was used the same way.

Kathleen Kirby of the Vicksburg Kennel Club said it agreed to help purchase Bret to help the city.

&#8220We’re trying to do for Vicksburg,” she said. &#8220The kennel club’s primary interest is dogs, so what better way than to pay back Vicksburg?”.

Bret is the fourth dog since 1999 to work for the police department, McLeod said.