VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - K-9 Units from the Georgia Department of Corrections are used to track missing persons, criminals on the run and search for drugs.
But now the dogs could be searching another job. The K-9 teams around the state may be cut in half and restricted in searches they can assist.
Law enforcers in rural counties say the result could be devastating.
K-9 units from state prisons are called to do a number of vital jobs.
"We utilize them as often as we can, especially in a chase or with someone missing," says Berrien County Sheriff Anthony Heath.
In rural counties with small budgets, the dogs are the only resources they have to do it this life saving work. But come October 1, they may not be available.
Due to the state budget crisis, the number of working K-9's could be cut in half. Their services may no longer be available to some local agencies.
"Special Ops K-9 is being pulled from being able to respond to local law enforcement unless prior approved, and even it is approved it will take a minimum of one hour or more before they can actually make it to the call. Which in most cases time is everything. That may determine whether or not the murderer, rapist, or any criminal is caught before committing another crime, a child is found, or an elderly person found. This will cripple the local sheriffs in our ability to be able to complete our law enforcement duties effectively," says Echols County Sheriff Randy Courson.
Law Enforcers say it's a cost saving measure that's putting a price tag on someone's life.
"What you are looking at is the safety of individuals, safety of people that are missing, drug seizures, things of that nature and you can't put a dollar amount on that," Sheriff Heath says.
Some agencies may turn to larger neighboring counties.
"For smaller agencies its really a concern for them because now they have no one but us to call," says Sgt. Leanne Bennett with the Lowndes County K-9 unit.
But resources will still be spread thin and could ultimately cause a spike in crime.
"They realize we don't have any back-ups to go after them, the violent crimes, eluding and chases will increase," Heath says.
"I understand the need for certain areas to cut their budgets, but when you tie law enforcement's hands by cutting essential assist agencies such as Special Ops K-9, it will allow more criminals to roam freely," Courson adds.
They all hope this doesn't happen. "We are reaching out to anyone who will listen to us to keep this available," Heath says.
So there will never be a day when they can't answer a call for help.
"We MUST keep these guys. This is not an option. Not because they are friends of law enforcement or because this is what they do; it is what they are! DOC Special Ops K-9 do their jobs and are the best at their jobs!" says Lanier County Sheriff Nick Norton.
He says Berrien, Lanier, Tift, Clinch, Ben Hill, Brooks and Echols County law enforcers made 24 tracking calls in July which resulted in 23 captures.
In August, 33 calls were made and all 33 subjects were found. An additional 39 calls were made in those to months for drug or cadaver searchers.
The Georgia Department of Corrections says their mission is to protect and serve the public and we will continue to work with local law enforcement. The wardens with K-9 units will now determine if they are able to respond to a call.
The dogs that will no longer be in service will be made available for law enforcers to adopt or be retired.