YSU welcomes newest member of its police force
By Elise Franco
Gino is a rookie with the Youngs-town State University Police Department, but his superiors are confident that his presence will serve to make the campus and the community safer places.
The department introduced Gino, its new explosives-detection dog, Monday morning. YSU is one of three state universities receiving a dog through federal grant-funding by the Ohio Department of Homeland Security. Bowling Green State University and Ohio State University will receive their dogs this week as well.
YSU Police Chief John Beshara said having Gino on the force will enhance the department’s capabilities to prepare and respond to bomb-related emergencies.
He said Gino is trained specifically to detect explosive materials and will be used during events such as political visits, high-profile speeches and athletic events on and off campus.
John Born, of the ODHS, said partnering with universities throughout the state was an easy choice.
“The best partners we have are within the university police departments,” he said. “They serve the population of the universities, host large-scale events
and serve the community as well.”
Born said YSU was the first to express interest in the grant program.
“[Beshara] was the first to raise his hand and say, ‘We want to be partners,’” he said. “This isn’t just about saving a life. It’s about saving lives, and there’s no greater asset than a dog trained to save lives in this way.”
Perhaps the most excited about the addition of Gino is his partner and handler Patrolman Mark Mehley, who said he’d been talking to Beshara about the possibility of bringing in a police dog since joining the department fulltime a year ago.
“I’d been asking if we could try to get a dog from day one,” Mehley said.
Born said the grant covers the purchase of each animal, as well as the training, veterinary bills and equipment, which totals more than $12,700.
Mehley and Gino returned Friday from a five-week training course in Columbus in which Mehley said they eventually were paired-up based on their chemistry together.
“During that first week, the handlers worked with each of the [four] service dogs and saw how our personalities connected,” he said. “It’s just a really great opportunity, having the responsibility of being his handler.”
Beshara said Mehley and Gino are required to continue their training in Columbus once per month for six months, and then on an annual basis. He said Mehley will continue his regular patrol duties, with Gino in tow, but they’re prepared to put their training into action when necessary.
“If a need does arise, Mark is the officer who is trained to deal with that,” he said. “In 26 years, this is the best program of its kind that I’ve seen … because of the need to make sure this campus and community are safe.”