By Katie Fallon
katiefallon@reporternewspapers.net

The unique mix of prayer and baking skills has provided some much needed protection for one metro area police department’s four-legged officers.

Through the combination of proceeds from a bake sale and chapel service offerings, students at the Lovett School in Buckhead were able to donate two protective vests to the Norcross Police Department’s (NPD) K-9 Unit. The unit includes Officers Craig Dallape and Stacey Sanders as well as their police dogs Charlie and Bravo.

The idea for the donation, which was facilitated through the nonprofit organization Vest ‘N PDP, came from Lovett second grade teacher Sarah Spiers.

Spiers read an article about Vest ‘N PDP, which stands for Police Dog Protection, and showed it to the students in the Student Service Council. The students, who hold regular bake sales, decided they would donate the proceeds from their next sale to the organization.

Lovett’s Student Service Council includes third through fifth graders who participate voluntarily throughout the year to plan and carry out service projects in the Atlanta area.

Created in the summer of 2002, Vest ‘N PDP raises money to go directly toward purchasing bulletproof and stabproof vests for police dogs. Each vest costs $695 and since its inception, the organization has donated approximately 83 vests to K-9 units, mostly in Georgia. In 2006, the group helped protect 24 police dogs serving Georgia Tech, Columbus, Hiram, MARTA and the Atlanta Red Dog Unit.

According to the NPD, more than 55 police dogs are known to have died in the line of duty. Some of those lives, the departments said, could have been saved if the canines were wearing protective armor.

Charlie, a two-year-old German Shepherd, and Bravo, a one and a half-year-old German Shepherd, are used to both prevent and detect crimes as well as apprehend criminals who are either hiding or are on the run. For the NPD, Charlie and Bravo are used for drug detection, tracking, building searches, article searches, criminal apprehension, officer protection and area searches. The K-9 Unit is used to assist in the investigation of crimes such as residential or commercial burglaries, armed or snatching robberies, recently abandoned, stolen or criminally-involved cars, drug violations or any number of other misdemeanors and felonies.

Vest ‘N PDP’s Georgia representative Rozalyn Schmitt said the Norcross police department was chosen to receive Lovett’s donations because they were already seeking to outfit their dogs with protective vests.

“They were getting two new K-9’s and the Lovett School had raised enough money to purchase two vests,” Schmitt said.

In fact, Spiers said the students raised about $1,050 just from the bake sale and then contributed the rest of the needed funds from chapel service offerings. Chapel services are held once a week and the offerings are earmarked for various charitable causes throughout the year.

“It was just one morning bake sale and a few chapel offerings,” Spiers said.

Dallape said the NPD only had one K-9 dog until January and that dog was only used for drug searches. Their previous K-9 dog Jake retired that same month. He said the vests are invaluable to his canine coworkers.

“The vests that were given to our department by the Lovett School will help protect the K-9 in the same way that my vest helps to protect me while I am on patrol,” Dallape said. “When the K-9 is deployed in an apprehension situation, it is the K-9 that is coming in closest contact with the offender.”

Charlie and Bravo, Dallape said, are used on an almost daily basis by either the NPD or another law enforcement department in Gwinnett County. He noted if either dog is on duty when another jurisdiction calls for assistance, the NPD will respond.

K-9 unit dogs receive an average of six months of training before joining the police department. The training is conducted by a Master Trainer and includes introducing different odors the dog will need to detect and skills in tracking and apprehension. Dallape and Sanders continue training their dogs an average of 16 to 20 hours a month.