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With budget cuts, donated dogs, hay, tools — and cash — keep Utahns safer

Published March 13, 2013 9:49 am

With ongoing budget cutbacks, private donors have become "critical" for departments' operation.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Man's best friend may be a dog ­— but for public safety departments, one that comes with cash is even better.

For example, meet Meatball. He's the ninth and newest four-legged addition to the Utah County Sheriff's office K-9 unit — thanks to a donation worth more than $10,000 from Firehouse Subs to acquire and train him. Since 2009, the department had been understaffed by one dog for pursuits and drug searches.

With ongoing budget cuts to public safety, private donations have become "critical," said Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy. When donations help fund necessary items, his department — and others around the state — can use the savings elsewhere, he said.

"We have seen a willingness of many businesses and people [to] step forward to solve this funding issue," Tracy said. "We aren't just cutting away the fat, we are figuring out what muscle to cut out, too."

With donated cash and feed from farmers and the community, the department is caring for 100 horses at the center of a pending animal cruelty case, said Tracy, who is also a first vice president of the Utah Sheriffs' Association. "To afford a ton [2,000 pounds] of hay a day," he said, "we have been able to cover those costs through donations."

Making a difference • The New Auto Dealer's Association has given more than $250,000 to the Utah Highway Patrol over the past decade for overtime shifts, said Colonel Danny Fuhr — putting an extra 26 officers on the roads for holiday DUI enforcement.

In 2011, Chief Chris Burbank created the Salt Lake City Police Foundation to collect donations, and corporations such as Wal-Mart and Target have helped support the Law Enforcement Explorer Program, said spokeswoman Lara Jones. Participants ages 14 to 20 learn what it's like to be a police officer.

Without donations, the $1,500 cost for each candidate, including a uniform, wouldn't be covered, she said, since nearly all of a police department's budget pays for salaries and benefits.

"This leaves departments unable to invest in innovation and technology, to fund special programs and training, to meet emergency needs or to reach out to the community," Jones said.

Last year, a private donor gave the Unified Police Department money for a 9-ton BearCat, complete with a .50-caliber armored turret, for its SWAT teams. UPD also has a website dedicated specifically to fundraising for buying and training K-9 dogs.

While the Unified Fire Authority gets few private donations, it also benefited from Firehouse Subs two years ago, when the sandwich shop provided more than $9,000 for a thermal-imaging camera that helps firefighters locate people in burning buildings.

Support through subs • Firehouse Subs co-founder Robin Sorensen and his brother Chris Sorensen are both former firefighters, and come from a family with 200 years of combined fire-fighting experience. The Florida brothers opened their first restaurant in 1994, and their nonprofit Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation was created in 2005.

They were inspired by a trip to Louisiana to take an 18-wheeler of supplies to Hurricane Katrina victims. They decided to focus their donations on public safety issues "because it mirrors our heritage and what our brand is about," Robin Sorensen said.

The foundation funds life-saving equipment and education. It has donated Tasers, four-wheelers, boats and equipment for diving and rapelling.

Firehouse Subs now operates 600 locations nationwide, with four in Utah. The foundation has donated $63,000 in Utah since 2011, and $5.7 million nationally since 2005.

"The most satisfaction we get is through our foundation," Sorensen said, adding that when customers buy a sandwich, they are also supporting the community.

In Utah County, Tracy said, the fully-staffed K-9 team is available for around-the-clock service. A dog is worth 10 deputies in pursuits or drug busts, he said.

"In this time of limited resources," Tracy said, "it's great our citizens are able to help us be as effective as we can be."

cimaron@sltrib.com Twitter: @CimCity —

Firehouse Subs donations in Utah

Firehouse Subs has donated $63,024 in Utah since 2011. They have funded:

A police service dog worth more than $10,300, for the Utah County Sheriff's Office on March 6.

Bowring tools worth more than $7,400, for the City of Orem Fire Department on June 5, 2012.

A tactical body bunker with a viewport and extra shield panel worth more than $14,800, for the Cottonwood Heights Police Department on June 5, 2012.

A thermal-imaging camera worth more than $9,000 for the Unified Fire Authority of Greater Salt Lake on May 3, 2011.

Extrication equipment worth more than $19,000 for the Sandy City Fire Department on December 5, 2011.