Meet Chance, the Elgin PD's newest police dog. His assignment: Comfort people.
A new addition to the Elgin Police Department is turning a lot of heads.
Everyone wants some time with him, and he's happy to accommodate with a quick visit, and maybe a face lick.
No need to call HR. It's just Chance, a 12-week-old golden retriever who is joining the force as a comfort dog.
"He makes everybody happy," said officer Craig Arnold, his primary handler. "Everyone's attitude changes around him."
Chance and Arnold will work with the department's Collaborative Crisis Services Unit, which conducts follow-up visits with individuals who could benefit from mental or behavioral health services. Officers in the unit work with professionals who focus on mental and behavioral health, substance use disorder services and homelessness issues.
Most people associate dogs in police departments with German shepherds sniffing for drugs and explosives or tracking suspects, but police comfort or therapy dogs in aren't entirely new.
Buffalo Grove Police Department social worker Brittany Wilson, who is in the process of implementing a facility dog program for her department, said she's heard in her networks that lots of departments are inquiring about having a therapy dog of some sort.
"It's very exciting to have another modality to use within the community to bridge the gap between the residents and the police department and the social services unit," Wilson said. "This is another way to have someone feel very comforted when they're going through something very hard that they never thought they'd go through."
How program started
Elgin's comfort dog program was the brainchild of Cmdr. Eric Echeverria, who said the idea sprung from a study he had to prepare in 2019 as an assignment at the Northwestern Staff and Command School, a program for law enforcement executives.
Echeverria said he wanted to find something useful his department could realistically implement.
"I started looking at how we deal with mental health out in the public and how we deal with mental health issues internally," he said. A comfort dog seemed a perfect fit for both.
After getting the go-ahead for the program, Echevarria worked with trainer Jay Reed at the Masonic Association of Service and Therapy Dogs, a suburban nonprofit that provides therapy dogs to veterans and other individuals under special circumstances.
Together, they did some site visits with dogs at area hospitals and schools.
"It was tremendous the reactions you would see from people," Echevarria said. "What brings a smile to somebody's face faster than a puppy or dog, right?"
He said he wasn't aware of any other area departments using a comfort dog working in tandem with a sworn officer like Chance will.
Chance is certain to be a big draw at visits to schools, nursing homes and the like, but he'll also be involved in investigations, meeting with crime victims and basically helping anyone going through a traumatic situation.
Similar to dogs used at state's attorney's offices, Chance could also be "mic'd up" to comfort and "talk" with young abuse victims who might be afraid to talk to adults. Those recordings can then be used in court.
"It's a new approach to law enforcement, and we've always been a bit unconventional in how we do things in Elgin," Echeverria said. "Plus, inside the department, the stress that our officers go through, the stress that our dispatchers go through, to have this puppy here where they can refocus some of that energy and let some of that stress go will be a great relief."
How he was named
While the public picked Chance's name in a Facebook vote, Arnold suggested it initially and admitted to rallying the troops in hopes of it being selected.
The idea for the name came from a couple of inspirations, he said.
"First was our country needs a chance, you know, to kind of heal after everything that's been going on the last couple of years," he said.
But Arnold had a friend who was a Boone County officer who took his own life in 2019. "He had a family, but he wasn't talking to people, and I just feel like if something like Chance had been there, he could have had a chance."
Arnold and secondary handler officer Linda Williams will go through 20 weeks of training with Chance once he turns 16 weeks old, an age where dogs can form long-term memories.
Characterizing himself as a "big time" dog guy, Arnold said he's "extremely excited" about his new assignment and his new partner.
He had been wanting to do more outreach and work more with people suffering with mental illness and addiction, but the Collaborative Crisis Services Unit was limited to two detectives and other social workers.
"This opportunity was perfect for me," Arnold said. "I've been a dog lover my entire life, plus I love working with people. I'm a pretty outgoing person, so it works out well that they created this hybrid type of spot."
Arnold said his family is excited for his new job as well, or at least part of it.
"When I told my kids that I was applying for the job, all they heard was that we're getting a new puppy."