Blaine officers recognized for work

Published on Thu, Sep 11, 2003 by Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

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Blaine officers recognized for work

By Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

Several members of the Blaine police department were recognized for their work last week, including police officer Mike Munden and senior officer Doug Balmer.

Munden and his K-9 pal Yoschi, a three-year-old German shepherd, are now at the top of the certification ranks for K-9 units in the state. As of September 6, Munden is officially known as a K-9 master handler, something not typically earned by such a young team.

Munden�s K-9 experience started back in 2000, when he came up with the idea for a K-9 patrol unit and shared it with his superiors. �We said fine, make it work, if it doesn�t cost us any money,� police chief Mike Haslip said smiling. �By golly, he did.�

Munden single-handedly pulled the program together, Haslip said, writing 600 letters soliciting contributions.Within several months, Munden collected about $20,000 � enough for a K-9 program. And so, on September 10, 2001, one day before the 9/11 attacks, Munden and Yoschi began training that was hosted by the Delta police department in Delta, B.C., which is known as a leading training center in North America.

Munden and Yoschi completed 520 hours of training, 120 more than a police officer needed in 2002. In December of 2001, they graduated from the school; however, Munden would aspire for more training. In addition to patrol training, Munden sought and completed drug training for Yoschi, who can now detect cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine.

Last year, Yoschi finished sixth in a state-wide competition held by the Washington State Police K-9 association. Following these achievements, Munden then went for the designation of Master K-9 handler. �We said, fine, go for it. And he did so on much of his own time,� Haslip said, still smiling.

This certification is typically acquired after two to three years as a K-9 handler, but Munden quickly completed it.

�It�s not uncommon to reach the level of master handler, although most teams that obtain that standard have a little more experience than Yoschi and I do,� Munden said, adding he tries to train hard and is lucky to have people behind him that push him and support him, including his trainer Bob Eden. �He (Eden) was constantly pushing us to take it up a notch ... Because of that, Yoschi and I have come a long way in a short period of time.�

Munden said it feels good to get over this hurdle. �I owe most of the thanks to Shan Hanon of the Bellingham police department. He helps me with my ongoing training, and he convinced me that Yoschi and I were ready,� he said. �The rest of the thanks go to Yoschi. He does all of the hard work, I just hang on and follow.

�Mike and Yoschi are about the best we�ve got and he deserves our support and thanks for the job he�s done so far,� Haslip said. �He gets called all over the county and each time he goes he�s a representation of the community.�

Haslip recently attended a risk-management conference where small communities were advised to establish several standards, including strong documentation of K-9 use, certification credentials and effective, thorough K-9 training � all of which Munden had already accomplished.

�I was just glowing by the end of the conference,� Haslip said. �Mike had already done all of these things.�

So far in 2003, Munden and Yoschi have recovered $20,000 in narcotics-related cash, 147,000 grams of marijuana and 151,000 grams of methamphetamine.

One example of Yoschi�s findings was in a semi-trailer full of recycled cardboard at the Blaine truck crossing. �He (Yoschi) found well over over 100 pounds of high-grade marijuana, valued at millions of dollars,� Haslip said. �That�s a lot of drugs off the street.�

After all of this, Munden has one more thing he�d like to do. �My ultimate goal is to become a master trainer. That title would allow me to train and certify other dog handlers in the state of Washington,� he said. �It�s my hope that Blaine may end up with more than one dog. If I could train the new handler, it would save the city a lot of money and it would be great experience for me.�

On the fraud front, senior police officer Doug Balmer was recognized at Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) headquarters in Surrey, B.C. last week, for his work in fraud schemes targeting the elderly, such as lotteries and credit card scams. On hand to credit him were FBI officials, customs agency representatives from both the United States and Canada, the RCMP�s regional superintendent as well as other officials. He received a commendation signed by FBI director Robert Mueller, citing outstanding contributions and excellent work.

Haslip said Balmer was first involved with telemarketing fraud five years ago and worked hard to track down the international con-artists based in Canada, targeting elderly in the U.S.

�Their (con artists) connection to Blaine was that they used the mail forwarding services here and the banks in Blaine,� Balmer said.

When asked how many individuals were affected in Whatcom County, he said there were none. �Washington state is pretty aggressive with telemarketing,� he said, adding most of those affected were in other states.

Balmer, who has been with the Blaine police department for 16 years, worked with numerous law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and RCMP to investigate and prosecute several high profile cases. He has personally arrested at least eight major players when they crossed the border into Blaine to use Blaine�s banks and postal services. One case Balmer worked involved a Crescent Beach, B.C. couple who had stolen an estimated $50 million from hundreds of elderly U.S. victims.

�I really enjoyed the work. It was especially nice to be able to get some of the money back to the elderly people involved,� Balmer said. �But when you get one guy, another 10 pop up.�

He has been officially pulled from fraud work, as the investigations are time consuming and a task force has now been assigned. But, he said, he�s fine with that and enjoys being an officer on the night shift.

�You just keep doing your job,� he said. �It�s nice to be out there, working with the community, there�s so much going on.�

In addition to Balmer, senior officer Dan Sartain and chief Haslip were also invited to the ceremony, and received written commendations for their participation. They accepted a plaque from the FBI for the police department�s ongoing cooperation and work with these crimes.

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