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Columbus’ police chief eager for future with K-9 unit

November 23, 2018

The Columbus Police Department is inching closer to re-establishing its K-9 unit thanks to the efforts of community members and the city.

“We’re nearing or exceeding the $30,000 threshold we were aiming for,” Columbus Police Chief Charles Sherer said on Nov. 16.

The city will put forth between $60,000 and $65,000 to the development of the police K-9 program, Mayor Jim Bulkley confirmed. Combine that with the funds raised by the community, Sherer said, that should be enough to proceed with purchasing the dog, the equipment and vehicle required.

“I am extremely pleased with the support of the community, and the Columbus Community Hospital Foundation stepped up to be our coordinating agency. This wouldn’t be possible without their input,” Sherer said. “The fundraising effort has been going very well.”

The chief will soon determine which of his existing officers will work as part of the K-9 unit, and then they will travel to a recommended vendor in Alabama – the same vendor used by the Nebraska State Patrol and several other area law enforcement agencies with K-9 units – to select their newest team member.

“The selection process for the officer is the most important aspect. That person has to have ambition and drive,” Sherer said, noting Belgian Malinois is his breed of preference because said dogs are known for an ‘very acute sense of smell, are very driven and obedient.’ “As far as purchasing the animal, we have to make sure we get the right animal. The officer has to be introduced to the dog and the dog has to take a social liking to the handler. The officer is going to have to be able to bond with the animal.”

Once they return, the handler and dog will go through a 13-14-week Nebraska State Patrol Academy class in Grand Island, where they’ll bond and learn procedures. Sherer said CPD is aiming to have a dual-purpose dog. The animal will not only use its senses to smell and detect narcotics, but also will come in handy for patrol purposes and aid in apprehending fleeing felons and lost or missing persons, Sherer noted.

The addition of the K-9 unit is the start of year two for Sherer as the department’s 16th chief, having taken over the position in September 2017. In his first year at the helm, Sherer had what he called “three incidents of pretty significant magnitude” play out.

During his first week on the job, a man died while in Columbus Police custody. A Platte County grand jury later cleared Columbus Police officers of any wrongdoing in the death of the 39-year-old local man, as previously reported by The Telegram, though Sherer recently acknowledged it was stressful at the time.

Sherer has also seen two incidents where his officers were shot at. Columbus Police Sgt. Bradley Wangler suffered gunshot wounds in June during a shootout after he and officers attempted to serve an outstanding warrant (Wangler has since recovered and told The Telegram previously he is doing well).

More recently, in September, a suspect pointed a gun at officers and shots were fired during the incident, however, nobody was injured.

Despite some of the stressful situations that occurred in his first year at the helm, Sherer said he loves the city and his team.

“I am humbled. I think Columbus is a great place to work and has a great police department,” he said, noting he has 36 officers and 15 support personnel members.

Bulkley praised Sherer for his commitment to his staff and Columbus.

“Chief Sherer is involved with his police family, his own family and the community,” Bulkley said. “…When the time came to replace a retiring Chief (William) Gumm, we were fortunate to have a qualified candidate in house.”

A Wakefield native, Sherer started as an officer with the Schuyler Police Department in 1979 and was promoted to chief in September 1980 at age 20, making him the youngest police chief in the state at that time, according to his application.

Sherer, who served in the U.S. Army Reserves from October 1978 until 2003 and retired with the rank of master sergeant, left SPD in 1997 for a police captain job in Columbus. He started out as captain in the support division, where he stayed for 10 years, before becoming captain of the patrol division for nine years. He did that until he took the top spot at CPD.

Sherer said he learned quite a bit from former Chief Gumm throughout the years, calling him a good man. But, he reiterated, his committed officers who he works with every day and are determined to keep the community safe, are the ones who inspire him.

“I put this staff up against any police department in the state,” he said. “We’ve got some very dedicated and determined officers. I think they do a great job.”

Sherer said he’s thankful to the community for earlier this year voting in favor of building a new police department, which is currently under construction, and for its support in the K-9 unit effort. CPD previously had the ability to use Nebraska State Patrol’s K-9 when it was available, but having its own will make a huge difference.

“The dog brings a tool to the toolbox we haven’t had before,” Sherer said, noting not having one has left a void in the department he’s eager to fill. “This is my first rodeo in dealing with a dog, and there may be some aspects I was not aware of. So I am excited about the opportunity to learn to swim, but also I’m a little nervous to jump in the water.”

Sherer added the K-9 unit could potentially mean bright things in the future.

“We’re over our fundraising goal, so that’s a good thing,” Sherer said. “If we’re successful in this endeavor, perhaps we’ll look at adding a second dog in the future. We may be adding officers in the future as the community grows. You just never know …”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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