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Tyler Romenesko ’13, was nearing the end of his degree program at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh when he was assigned a capstone writing project. The assignment was to find a problem and propose a research-based solution.

Already employed in law enforcement for the city of Kaukauna, Romenesko knew right away that he wanted to write a proposal for a K-9 unit. “K-9” refers specifically to a dog that is trained to assist law enforcement officers. Romenesko explained that a K-9 unit helps protect officers, apprehend suspects and connect with the community in a positive way.

But the greatest use for a K-9 unit in Kaukauna would be to improve drug detection abilities for the Kaukauna Police Department and to deter drug use, sale and manufacturing in the city.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, heroin and other opioid-related deaths are an increasing problem in Wisconsin. The percentage of deaths in Wisconsin that involved heroin has increased from 5 percent in 2006 to nearly 30 percent in 2013, which is the most recent data collected by DHS.

Kaukauna is not immune from the state’s rising statistics, with Outagamie County among the top counties for the number of drug crimes in Wisconsin.

After researching K-9 use in combating drug-related deaths and crimes, Romenesko wrote his proposal for the class. But while most capstone projects are completed at the end of the semester, Romenesko’s work wasn’t over. After discussing it with his instructor, Jennifer Bucholz, Romenesko considered turning his idea into a reality. And that’s exactly what Romenesko did.

He presented the proposal to his department chief, assistant chief and lieutenant. Romenesko said he was a little shocked when all three responded with great enthusiasm. Bucholz, however, wasn’t as surprised.

“Tyler selected a real world problem and used sound research techniques to determine viability,” Bucholz said. “He had all the information necessary to move this project forward.”

With approval from the department, Romensko started a K-9 committee to present the proposal to the Kaukauna City Council and to help keep the project moving forward. The committee chair, Trevor Frank, also helped the cities of Appleton and Menasha raise money for their K-9 units.

“Knowing what I know about Kaukauna, I felt the need was definitely there,” Frank said. “I felt it was my civic responsibility to help out.”

The Kaukauna City Council approved the committee’s plan, provided the committee could raise $90,000 to cover the unit’s expenses for the first three years. After three years, the council agreed to cover the costs of maintaining the unit.

Romenesko took the project to the community, and he was amazed by their support. “This needed to be a community effort, and it has been,” he said.

From a high school fund drive that raised more than $17,000, to raffles and brat frys, Romenesko and his committee worked hard to raise the money. Some of the largest supporters came from local businesses.

“The businesses and citizens of Kaukauna have been generous, and it is a real community effort. Everyone from pre-school age children to local businesses have been so supportive. It is an impressively close-knit community,” Frank said.

The committee was able to raise the full amount of $90,000 in one year. The funds cover start up expenses like the handler’s salary, a car, equipment, and of course—the dog.

The Dutch Shepherd named Rocko and his handler Lucas Meyer spent six weeks this fall training in New Mexico. Their first day on the job in Kaukauna was Oct.1, 2015.

As Romenesko reflects to how this all began with a capstone project at UW Oshkosh, he thinks about the support of his community and the skills he built as a UW Oshkosh student.

“The Leadership and Organizational Studies program allowed me to better understand a project of this size,” Romensko said. “It also helped me understand that it would take the whole community to make it happen.”

For more information on the Kaukauna K-9 project, please visit its Facebook page. Donations for the project are being managed by the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.

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