Mounds View’s four-legged officer will get ballistic vest


The type of ballistic vest Niko will receive this summer.

Mounds View’s K-9 team, Officer Nick Erickson and Niko.

The Mounds View Police Department’s two-year-old K-9 Niko will soon have the same quality ballistic vest to protect him against bullet and stab wounds that the department’s two-legged uniformed officers wear while on active duty.

The protective vest worth around $950 should arrive fully fitted to Niko’s measurements this summer, Mounds View Police Chief Tom Kinney said.

The department will acquire the vest free of charge thanks to an online nationwide fundraising campaign run in March by Vested Interest in K-9s, Inc. and Groupon Grassroots.

“Our original goal was to raise $95,000 and we surpassed that by raising $155,000,” Vested Interest in K-9’s President Sandy Marcal said. “I tell people that $10 does really make a difference, those donations all add up.”

The $155,000 raised during the nationwide Groupon campaign was used to purchase 163 ballistic vests for K-9’s.

Marcal started Vested Interest in K-9’s 13 years ago. Located in East Taunton, Mass., Vested Interest is a non-profit charity organization dedicated to providing bullet and stab protective vests for law enforcement K-9’s throughout the U.S.

“I eat, sleep and live this… it’s my life,” Marcal said.

She said over the past several years more and more police dogs have been injured or killed in the line of duty. She pointed to recent incidents in the Twin Cities where fleeing criminals attacked K-9’s -- one dog (Kody) in St. Paul in February was stabbed to death and another dog (Major) in Roseville last year lost the use of his hind limbs after being stabbed several times.

“I just want to cry every time I hear about it,” Marcal said.

Marcal said she has been reaching out to police departments in Minnesota ever since she has heard about the most recent tragedies. She said Vested Interest in K-9’s has great volunteers in Minnesota.

One of those volunteers is Kriscel Estrella, who also belongs to Minnesota Wives Behind the Badge -- a chapter of the national organization Wives Behind the Badge -- an all- volunteer non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources and emotional support to law enforcement families.

Estrella heard about the Groupon event and reached out to the Mounds View Police Department, helping them through the application process.

“We were notified by Wives Behind the Badge via email about the possibility of getting a vest for Niko through the Vested Interest campaign,” Kinney said. “We filled out the application and are lucky enough to be getting one in July.”

Since locating a vest for Mounds View’s Niko, Estrella said she has helped the Washington County Sheriff’s Department acquire four vests for their K-9 unit and one vest for the Lino Lakes Police Department. She plans to continue her work with both organizations and is currently planning charity events to raise money to purchase more protective K-9 vests. 

“This is a huge passion of mine,” Estrella said.

Niko

The Mounds View Police Department began their first ever K-9 team in the spring of 2012.

Kinney said Niko joined the department last spring after graduating from the St. Paul Police K-9 training academy with his handler and partner officer Nick Erickson.

Over the past year Niko and Erickson have been patrolling the streets of Mounds View and appearing at various events around the city. 

Kinney said Niko is well trained and ready to respond to his handler’s commands at all times. 

Niko often assists in searches, but is in the squad car on duty with Erickson ready to help out in any situation if necessary, whether it is at the scene of a burglary or a routine traffic stop gone awry.

“In a volatile situation, with someone not obeying orders, Niko is there to control that threat. Usually his presence is enough to get the person to comply,” Kinney said.

But, if that presence is not enough Niko is trained to take someone down if commanded by Erickson.

This can put a police dog in a dangerous situation if someone is desperate to get away.

Kinney said if there is an unknown and potentially dangerous person in a building, for example, Niko is the first to go in.

“They’re [K-9’s] the front line so to speak and are there to protect the officer,” he said.

Kinney said the department is thankful for the efforts of Vested Interest in K-9’s and to the Minnesota Wives Behind the Badge organization for helping them to provide more protection for Niko while he is on duty.

When Niko is not patrolling the streets with his handler he enjoys a comfortable home at the Erickson household.

Kinney said Niko recently had an exterior home structure built for him by students at Edgewood Middle School.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.

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