LEZLIE STERLING / lsterling@sacbee.com

Officer Arlin Kocher would lose the services of K-9 Jag under a plan by interim Chief Scott LaCosse and Lt. Mike Sales to cut expenses and limit the scope of school policing.

Twin Rivers police chief and aide threaten to quit

Published: Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 - 3:03 pm

The Twin Rivers acting police chief and lieutenant charged with cleaning up the once-troubled school district police force will tender their resignations this week if board members block recommended changes within the department, according to a letter obtained by The Bee.

Acting Police Chief Scott LaCosse and Lt. Mike Sales wrote to Twin Rivers trustees and Interim Superintendent Rob Ball on Friday, saying they have made progress refocusing the mission of the police force in order to be more school-centered, as many in the community and school district have requested. However, recent efforts to continue that progress have been disrupted, LaCosse said.

Since May, LaCosse and Sales have been seeking to discontinue the Twin Rivers K-9 program and abandon the department's 24-hour-a-day operation for an 18-hour shift for police responses. LaCosse told The Bee on Saturday that these moves are essential aspects of changing the school Police Department culture from one focused on policing the community to creating safer campuses for students during school.

Supporters of keeping the dog, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois named Jag, have argued at recent board meetings that it helps create connections among kids who are apprehensive about officers. K-9 handler Officer Arlin Kocher, who is also the police union president, declined to comment for this story.

"Jag is such a huge public relations hit with the kids, especially in the younger grades," said Charlea Moore, a Twin Rivers police supporter who worked on fundraisers for Jag. "The kids know who Jag is. He's a super cop and so is Arlin Kocher. I know they are both popular with the kids."

LaCosse said his resignation threat is unrelated to the police dog or his handler.

"This is a combination of the board's involvement in day-to-day operations and what we see as backtracking (reverting to general law enforcement)," LaCosse said. "It's very frustrating."

In the letter, LaCosse and Sales said their desire to discontinue the K-9 program was blocked Friday by a school board member. The trustee is not named in the letter, but board member Michael Baker acknowledged he is likely the person being referenced.

"I thought this should be a board decision," Baker said Saturday. "This is a big operating decision in a touchy department in the district."

Baker said he did not like the tone of LaCosse's and Sales' letter, or that the board was given an ultimatum. Since his election in June, Baker has voiced both opposition and support for continuing with the K-9 program.

"I want to see what the dog costs and the overall liability of the dog and we will make a decision," he said Saturday.

The Twin Rivers police force spent $19,000 last year for the dog, basic training and a year of maintenance training. At the time, Police Chief Christopher Breck led the department. Breck was placed on paid administrative leave in November as scandals began to rock the small police force, beginning with allegations of excessive traffic stops and car tows. The Sacramento Police Department is investigating other allegations.

District Deputy Superintendent Ziggy Robeson, who oversaw the Police Department, was put on administrative leave in April, before receiving a $260,000 buyout. Four new board members were elected in June.

"It is clear that the district's Police Department went astray in large part as a result of operational decisions being made by individuals whose law enforcement experience was either inadequate or nonexistent," LaCosse said in the letter. "Consequently, it is unacceptable to us that board members, either individually or collectively, would continue to demand to be involved in these operational decisions."

According to the letter, Ball agreed to discontinue the district's use of Jag. Kocher was told Thursday of the district's decision. On Friday morning, the decision was put on hold pending board approval after Baker intervened.

"As former K9 handlers, Lt. Sales and I are aware of the benefits and liabilities related to the use of law enforcement K9s," LaCosse wrote in the letter. "… While there are financial and civil liability issues associated with any police K9 program, this decision was made based on our professional opinion that a patrol dog is a general law enforcement tool that is inappropriate in a school police department of this size."

In the letter, LaCosse said Jag has, in some cases, impeded operations, including recently when trustee Baker was on a ride-along with Kocher. When Kocher stopped a suspected drunken driver he was unable to transport the subject to jail because the school board member was riding in front and the police dog in back. While waiting for assistance, Kocher was delayed in responding to a call of intruders attempting to enter classrooms at Rio Linda Preparatory Academy.

LaCosse also cited the cost of providing a home retention vehicle and gas to transport Jag to Kocher's home 39 miles away, handler fees of $8,000 paid to Kocher to care for the dog and the four to five hours of K-9 training that results in Kocher being gone from duty.

In the letter, LaCosse and Sales said they will resign if the district doesn't move forward with their changes by 8 a.m. Monday. However, the board does not meet again until Tuesday, so LaCosse said they likely will wait to see if trustees indicate a clear direction or make a decision at that meeting.

Tuesday's meeting is likely to attract supporters of Jag, who have attended recent meetings to speak about the benefits of having a K-9 on a school police force, particularly one who has won numerous awards at police K-9 trials.

"Our community is willing to do what we can to keep this dog," said Lisa Morris, president of the Rio Linda Chamber of Commerce. "We think it's important … If the acting chief wants to step down over this issue, go ahead. Everyone is looking for a job right now."

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