The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 10, 2014

Johnstown K-9s receive new wheels

David Hurst

JOHNSTOWN — Johnstown Police Department’s newest K-9 has a new set of wheels.

And the donation of a state-of-the-art, all-wheel-drive Ford Explorer Interceptor may be just the beginning of a growing effort to bolster the city’s K-9 Corps, fundraisers said.

Since the K-9 Community Fund was launched late last year, more than $63,000 has been collected through donations by more than 250 local businesses and residents, said Jack Babich, senior vice president of Johnstown-based AmeriServ Financial Corp., and leader of the fundraising campaign.

“With continued support ... we could be able to deliver two or three of these vehicles,” Babich said while standing next to the newly delivered SUV during a press conference Thursday.

The event at the downtown bank was hosted by Cambria Somerset Labor Management Committee and Community Foundation for the Alleghenies.

Donations have pushed the collection figure so close to the fund’s $68,000 grassroots goal that organizers plan to keep it going, Babich said.

“Everybody understands the tough financial condition the city is in ... and crime doesn’t stop,” he said.

“That’s why it’s so great to see the support we’re getting. We’ve been getting donations from $3 to $10 to $3,500 from people.”

The effort delivered the Explorer to the city’s department this week. It will replace one of several K-9-ready SUVs that are “on their last legs,” in the words of city police Chief Craig Foust.

It’s a big boost for the K-9 Corps, which recently added two dogs to its four-officer, four-animal unit, Foust said.

Dennis Stidinger of EADS Group and Sally Sargent of Sargent’s Personnel Agency purchased the newest K-9s for the city.

To keep the vehicle’s $35,000 cost low, Laurel Auto Group, Layton Graphics and Team Force all donated toward the SUV and its necessary equipment, Babich said.

The new Explorer has the name of Sarge, the K-9 unit’s newest Belgian shepherd, imprinted on the hood.

Sgt. Michael Plunkard, the dog’s handler, brought the 18-month-old K-9 into the bank to accept the keys for the new vehicle.

Among the SUV’s additions are the ability to open a rear door by remote from as far away as 2,500 feet so if an officer quickly needs his assistance, Sarge will be ready to respond with the click of a button.

Babich said the Johnstown Police Department once boasted the third-largest K-9 unit in Pennsylvania, and fundraisers would love to work toward that goal again.

The dogs, trained for patrols and location of suspects and evidence, are valuable members of the force, he said.

“We think this fundraising effort can be an ongoing one,” Babich said. “We’d like to expand it countywide.”