There's a new police officer in Oak Park and the first of his kind in the community to take on the responsibilities of patrol.

An 18-month-old Belgian Malinois recently was inducted into the ranks of the Oak Park Police Department as their first canine for the department's new K-9 patrol unit. 

The Malinois is better known as Canine Officer Mase, named after Officer Mason Samborski, who died in the line of duty on Dec. 28, 2008.

Oak Park Police Chief Steve Cooper said they have wanted a canine for several years. 

"We had to rely on outside agencies constantly," he said. "Once the city manager gave us the go ahead and City Council approved it, it took about four months and we can't wait to have him finish his training."

Samborski in had stopped Belton, a juvenile, for driving without a license and then apparently took him to an apartment complex to be released to a responsible adult. But at the apartment complex Belton grabbed Samborski's weapon and shot him.

Belton was found guilty of first-degree murder on November 19, 2010.

Cooper said Officer Mase is friendly yet disciplined after his six-week training course at Vohne Liche Kennels, a prominent training company for police dogs. 

Mase is trained in search and rescue on land and water, and scent, drug and wilderness tracking. His handler is Officer Michael Hodakoski. Joseph Meier oversee's the canine patrol unit.

The dog's roles will include searching buildings for suspects, entering buildings alone to hold suspects, detecting explosives, narcotics and more.

Hodakoski also had to spend six weeks in Indiana at the training center to learn to be an owner of a police canine. 

"Five or six guys applied and after a series of interviews, including a home interview, I was chosen," Hodakoski said. "He goes to work with me and comes home with me. It's been a big adjustment, but he's not a pet, he can separate work from home life."

Hodakoski said Mase is a high-energy dog who always wants to work. 

Oak Park City Manager Erik Tungate said with more than 15,000 service calls and more than 8,000 traffic stops a year, the addition of a canine unit will enhance crime fighting. 

“There have been times that we’ve called neighboring agencies for canine assistance, and sometimes their canine units were either unavailable or delayed," he said.

Despite the enthusiasm of having a four-legged crime fighter, Cooper said the program is costly. 

"The training, the cost of the kennel at the officer's home, the cage for the car and fans to keep in the car ... it can be expensive."

Cooper said they would like to use Mase to reach out  to communities, schools and youth programs.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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