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A Detroit Police K-9 handler was assigned patrol duty as he awaits an investigation and possible disciplinary action after his police dog died after being left inside the officer’s police car.
It was a series of failures – both by the officer and by the vehicle – that led to the death of German Shepherd K9 Vito, a drug-sniffing and tracking dog with the Detroit Police Department’s K-9 Unit who’d been partnered with the officer since March.
Detroit Police Commander Darin Szilagy said in a statement that the officer placed Vito in the department issued Dodge Durango parked at their training site and started the police SUV with a remote starter. He then left the site with another officer and did not return for 40 minutes.
“They were gone about 40 minutes and during that time the vehicle had shut off and the heat safety alarm system, which normally activates when the vehicle turn 95 degrees, failed to operate,” Szilagy said. “At that time the windows should have came [down] and the fans turned on.”
When the officers returned, they found Vito barely clinging to life inside the sweltering hot police car. He was rushed to an emergency veterinarian, but died of cardiac arrest the following day.
An investigation revealed that in addition to failing to report known mechanical problems with the safety devices on the vehicle, the officer did not follow department policy, which requires the officer to check on the dog at least every half hour, no matter what.
The officer, who has been with the Detroit Police Department for 10 years, was placed on patrol duty while he awaits discipline.
“I was a K-9 handler once myself,” Szilagy said. “There is no punishment that we can render that that officer doesn’t already feel, I can tell you that. But we do have to ensure, through training and discipline, that this never, ever happens again.”