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Police dogs and handlers gather for training seminar in Coos Bay

COOS BAY — Police K-9 teams from all over the state came to Coos Bay this week to run training exercises with the Oregon Police Canine Association for their fall seminar.

The Oregon Police Canine Association, a non-profit organization, brought together over 150 handlers and dogs for this twice yearly event in hopes to improve training and exchange techniques.

There are two different types of police dogs, patrol and detection. Patrol dogs run through training scenarios where they sweep through houses to sniff out and apprehend bad guys. Detection dogs are trained to sniff out drugs, so their training exercises are more like nose based obstacle courses where they have to find the right scent.

“We’re teaching the officers how to move tactfully with the dog, and solve the problem,” OPCA president Darren Kendrick of Springfield Police Department said. “Over the last couple of day,s we’ve had both classroom and practical exercises.”

Dak, a service dog attending the seminar with his handler officer Chris Krebs of Coos Bay Police Department, was eager to make his way into the training scenarios. Before Dak was a police dog, he served in the military with the Army Rangers. Just last weekend, Dak assisted in tracking down a homicide suspect in Lakeside.

The dogs that are trained for law enforcement start their training at a very young age. One young pup named Rizzo, handled by Officer Anthony Bastinelli from the Beaverton Police Department, was only 18 months old. Rizzo had completed his detection training just a week prior to the OPCA seminar.  Rizzo is one of a few service dogs that is actually trained for both patrol and detection, he got his patrol certification back in July.

“Sometimes these guys will come to us and say my dog’s not doing A, B, C, and D. So, at these seminars we have a chance to work with them. These seminars are not only for teaching all of us, but they’re also for problem solving, if someone’s having problems with their dog than we can work on that,” Kendrick said.

Training a dog for law enforcement can be expensive. Many of the dogs are brought to U.S from Europe, and can cost anywhere $3,000 to $12,000. By the end of training as much as $25,000 can be spent on the animal. Occasionally dogs are found at shelters, and have the proper discipline necessary to work as a police dog.

“There is no assignment more fun than this. You have a partner that’s part of the family. On our days off we go on walks, if I go camping then he goes camping,” Kendrick said.

Kendrick has had three different dogs throughout his career. Many service dogs can put in up to 10 years of service. Bastinelli, who’s just started working with Rizzo, worked with his last dog till the dog was 12. Most service dogs retire around the age of eight.

According to Bastinelli, training the handler is the hardest part of the entire process. Handlers need to be very patient, with good timing and consistency.

OPCA really stresses that it is a non-profit organization. “We’re just cops helping cops,” Officer Alex Fyfe from Portland said.

Although the OPCA works primarily with law enforcement they do help members of the public train their dogs, provided they have the time.

The next seminar is in Albany, Oregon next spring.

Lumber industry returns to work after fire closures

COOS BAY — After recent rains, many lumber workers have been able to return to work this week as fire levels in many areas are back down to a level safe for industrial work.

The State of Oregon has Industrial Fire Precaution Levels, which dictate the amount of work a lumber company can do while a fire is burning.

Last week, most of Southern Oregon was at a level four, which calls for complete closure of lumber industry while fires are being fought.

“We were down all of last week in Roseburg,” Steve Swanson, CEO of Swanson Group, said. Swanson Group is a lumber company that owns mills all over the state, including Coos County.

When the state posts a level one IFPL work for the lumber industry returns to normal. The requirements at level one are the same as the precautions companies take naturally during fire season. Small precautionary measures like workers carrying a water tank with them are required.

At level two, waivers are submitted by lumber companies for permission to operate. Certain equipment like power saws, feller-bunchers with rotary head saws, cable yarding, blasting, welding, cutting, and grinding metal, are only allowed between the hours of 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.

When the IFPL is increased to three, all work must be done between the hours of 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Todd Payne, the CEO of Seneca Sawmill, said “It’s not just the closures that hurt us. We own 167,000 acres in timber lands. We lost 1,000 acres in the fire.”

The age of the trees in an acre determine its worth. For example an acre of two year old trees may be worth around $600 to a lumber company, where as an acre of forty year old trees could be worth up to $10,000. 

“We were very fortunate, we didn’t lose any timberland in the fire,” Marketing Manager at Lone Rock Timber Dave Sutton said. “Our problem is strictly with closures, and log inventory.”

Log inventory is the reason that even mills end up shutting down during a level-four fire precaution level, because they can only mill the logs they have. There are no new logs coming in to be milled.

Heftier fines, stricter laws coming for cellphone-using drivers

NORTH BEND — Drivers in Oregon can no longer scroll through Facebook, search for music or check emails while behind the wheel under a distracted driving law that takes effect next month. 

House Bill 2597, passed earlier this year, aims to limit distracted driving by addressing a loophole in Oregon’s hands-free law that allowed drivers to use their phone as long as they weren’t talking or texting on it.

Under the 2009 law, there was no provision that stated people couldn’t hold their phone and use it for navigation, for instance.

Now, it’s illegal for drivers to hold or use any hand-held electronic device, including cellphones, tablets, mobile GPS or laptops while driving in Oregon.

North Bend Police Officer Nathan George said the biggest part of the new law is harsher penalties.

Under the new bill, drivers could faces fines upwards of $1,000 for distracted driving. There’s also an escalation in penalties for repeat offenders, unlike the previous law.

Second-time offenses or ones that involve a crash carry even pricier fees, with a maximum fine of $2,500. By the third offense within a 10-year period, it becomes a misdemeanor crime.

Starting next year, the court may suspend the fine for first-time offenders if they complete a distracted driving avoidance course.

George said the new law won’t change the way officers handle traffic enforcement, but it will allow police to educate more drivers.

“I don’t have stats offhand but a lot of vehicle accidents within the past few years are caused from distracted driving,” George said.

From 2011-2015 there were 9,951 crashes in Oregon that resulted in 54 fatalities and 15,150 injuries caused by crashes involving a distracted driver, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Oregon State Police Sgt. Michael Berland said he’s seen countless accidents caused by distracted driving.

He said there was one fatal crash - a woman driving with her child in the backseat - that he’ll never forget. Berland said when officers were able to find the deceased woman’s phone, she was halfway through making a grocery list. He said her death can be attributed, at least in part, to her cellphone.

The sergeant said there have been other times when he thinks someone is drunk because of how horrendous their driving is, but when he pulls them over the impairment is from texting.

“That right there is a glaring example of how distracting cellphones and electronics can be,” Berland said.

While there are some exemptions to the law, like calling 911, the new rules are much more stringent, only allowing one touch to activate a phone. Berland said that provision was written with the intent to allow people to answer calls and then talk on their Bluetooth devices.

“You’re reaching over to give it a swipe of the finger to accept the call,” he said.

Drivers under 18-years-old cannot use cellphones at all, even with a Bluetooth device.

“The message is very clear how serious everybody is taking it,” Berland said, “I certainly wouldn’t expect much leniency. I think we’re past that point.”