All the police department wants for Christmas is a new pooch.

Though they won’t have one by Dec. 25, Police Chief Jim Ryan said they have initiated the process to reinstate a K9 cop on the police force this spring.

The last dog on the Forest Park police team was Sam, a German shepherd who retired from the force a few years ago after suffering health problems. The canine unit was eliminated at that point partly because of manpower and budget issues.

At that time, assigning an officer with a dog was “a little bit labor intensive,” Ryan said. “The officer has to go to mandatory training, and that leaves our shifts a little bit short.”

But now there are more part-time police officers available to cover any schedule lapses, he said. The department also recently secured money through a financial seizures fund set up with U.S. Customs. The government agency gives the police department a 6-8 percent cut of the drug money the police seize, Ryan said. Within the last few weeks, Forest Park police seized roughly $1.5 million in drug money. The money they receive will go toward the costs associated with the dog, including a special K9 patrol car.

In the spring, Tops Kennel Complex in Grayslake will select a German shepherd and train the dog in a 20-week program. In the first 12 weeks the dog will learn obedience and the basics of building searches, tracking and narcotics detection. During the next eight weeks, the officer trains with the dog as the two learn how to work together in law enforcement scenarios. Even after the program concludes, the dog and the officer will continue to train once a week to “keep the dog sharp,” Ryan said. 

At this time, Ryan has not yet chosen an officer to work with the dog. Whoever it is, though, will be on call 24/7 once the canine unit begins. The dog will also live with the officer in order to build a strong bond as teammates.

That was the case with Officer Scott McClintock, who was Sam’s handler throughout the dog’s six-year career.   

“Everything we do, we do together,” McClintock recalled. “We go to work together, we eat together, we drive together. You spend more time with him than anyone in your family or anyone at work. There is a definite bond that grows; it’s indescribable and irreplaceable.”

McClintock said it’s amazing how smart the dogs are. They work quickly and have very sensitive noses. The key, for the handlers, is being able to read the dog and pick up the animal’s cues.

“When they are on to something, their breathing changes and they zone in,” McClintock said. “When you are able to home in and capture the dog’s senses, whether they are using the nose to find drugs or to find bad guys, then they are a really effective tool.”

Overall, McClintock said teaming up with Sam was an “awesome experience.”

“Every municipality should have at least one dog,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the department having another dog.”