Operation Vest Our K-9s
Are your community's police K-9s out in the field without protection?

This project to provide body armor for Fresno, California's K-9 division was instantly successful. Organizer Pam Cafarelli provides tips for community organizers wishing to do the same.

VITAL STATISTICS:

• Police K-9s are being shot, stabbed and killed at an alarmingly increasing rate.

• In the last 15 years, 37 have been killed in the United States. 20 of those were in the past 5 years alone.

• Several of the companies that manufacture body armor for humans do the same for K-9s.

• The bullet-proof vests for dogs are of the same protective level as those for humans.

• The body armor for K-9s is comfortable and weighs only 3 pounds.

• Business owners, merchants, private citizens, schools, organizations and other groups will help raise funds for K-9 body armor — all they need to know are the statistical facts about how often these marvelous "officers" are employed in crimefighting.

QUESTIONS?

• Click here to contact Pam Cafarelli.
demonstrating a sample vest at the press conference The Fresno Police Department's K-9 Unit was started in the early 1990s, and had grown to 13 K-9s by the time Operation Vest Our K-9s was launched. Within the three months leading up to the campaign, Fresno Police K-9s were used in:
  • 540 searches
  • 534 placates/arrests
  • 69 finds
  • 14 K-9 demonstrations
Pam Cafarelli, who finds homes for retired greyhounds in Central California, booked the Fresno Police K-9 unit to perform demonstrations at the local Greyhound Adoption Center picnics. While watching these amazing animals demonstrate their skills in simulated dangerous police actions, she worried that the K-9s were unprotected. "I'd heard that some of these dogs are injured or killed in the line of duty. I'd also been aware of the 'Cops' episode in which a K-9 was accidentally shot when attack dogs were unleashed on the police. So I did some research on the internet," says Pam.

When Pam visited the www.PoliceK9.com Valor Page, her worst fears were confirmed. The dogs were being stabbed, shot and even bitten by the criminals they were persuing. Pam's husband is a police officer, "so I knew that working dogs are an essential part of police work, but I wanted them to be safer in the field. More research found that a community would respond to outfitting K9s with body armor, as long as the public could see what a major role these dogs play in law enforcement."

Next came the long process of finding an ideal K-9 body armor — good ratings against ballistics and knives, the least possible weight and cost effectiveness. "For a little over $7,000, we would be able to outfit all 13 of the Fresno Police Department's dogs," says Pam.

Anyone persuing fund-raising for K-9 vests is advised by Pam to give the plan time for approval under police department procedure. Pam worked with Sgt. Tom Laband of the K-9 division, and the fund-raiser was approved through the chain of command — including the Chief. This process can vary greatly from department to department.

Publicity was the key to successfully launching Operation Vest Our K-9s. "The police department issued the press release and Sgt. Laband and the Chief were present at the press conference kicking off the drive. The department's involvement got the attention of the TV stations and the paper. Having a K-9 demonstration at the conference helped enormously because the TV stations got great footage of the dogs in action. We made two appearances on the Kiss Country (radio) morning show, and got an article in the newspaper," says Pam. "But what really made a difference was having a sample vest — I'd encourage anyone doing this to get a sample vest so the cameras can see the dog protected."

Pam says the media should stress the number of police actions in which K-9s are used. "The public needs to see how much work these dogs really do," says Pam. "They're usually called out in very dangerous situations, and vests can give these dogs the same level of protection that their human partners get." She says people are often surprised to find out how many police calls include K-9s — and how often they're hurt by suspects.

With a simply-stated fund-raising goal to provide 13 bullet-proof vests at a total cost of just over $7,000, the campaign involved donation canisters as well as a public appeal for funds from business owners, private citizens and service groups. "We bought plastic cannisters and covered them with pictures of handlers and their dogs," says Pam. "We had plans to involve school kids by having classes adopt dogs and fill a cannister." Pam says that, surprisingly, non-conventional placement worked very well — a local plant nursery and liquor store generated a lot of donations. Funds were desposited directly into a K-9 account with the Fresno Police & Neighborhood Watch Association.

But before Operation Vest Our K-9s fully propagated, it was over.

"I couldn't believe it," say Pam. "Because of the media exposure, we raised all we needed in just a couple of days."

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