ALAMO — The police department here has added a new member to its force: Standing four legs tall and more than a year old, Roni stands out from his colleagues.

The German Shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix is the department’s first K-9 unit, an addition made possible by a donation from the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District.

The district purchased the $8,500 narcotics detector dog for the department from Pacesetter K9, a training operation in Liberty, Texas.

“It’s very important to the school district that the community and the schools be as drug free as possible, so it’s a mutual benefit,” said PSJA ISD Superintendent Daniel King. “The less drugs in the community, the less drugs in the schools.”

Roni was assigned to officer Mario Garcia, another relatively new addition to the force, having been hired three months ago. The pair spent the past three weeks going through an intensive training program at Pacesetter, from which they graduated Aug. 17.

In addition to patrolling the city of Alamo, Garcia and Roni will conduct random drug sweeps of the district’s campuses and school facilities and also participate in drug prevention programs. Roni can also be used to track suspects or missing people.

Garcia is no stranger to handling K-9s, having spent the past seven of his nine years in law enforcement working with narcotics detection dogs, as a K-9 handler with the city of Edcouch and the Weslaco Independent School District.

He said “the K-9 itself” is what he enjoys most about working with dogs, adding, “They will go above and beyond for you … Pretty much they’ll give their life for you and all they require in return is a little love and tenderness.”

PSJA ISD paid for Roni through its safety and security budget, and he is the first dog the district has purchased for the local police departments, which it partners with for school security. In addition to Roni, a K-9 unit belonging to the Pharr Police Department patrols the district’s campuses.

“Through the donation I think we’re able to do two things: One, help (Alamo PD) to kickstart the (K-9) program in terms of affordability; but second of all, really just demonstrating the partnership because that’s what we’re about … working together,” King said. “We have the same mission, which is the betterment of the community and better opportunities for the young people and everyone in the community.”

The Alamo Police Department will cover Roni’s annual expenses, which include food, upkeep and veterinary expenses, which will cost the department approximately $15,000 annually, according to Chief Baudelio Castillo. The department has budgeted for these costs for the first year, after which point they will come from the PD’s forfeiture fund, Castillo said.

Roni made his first drug bust Wednesday, when a routine traffic stop Garcia conducted resulted in the discovery of a kilogram of cocaine, a half-pound of marijuana and approximately $13,000 in cash. Two suspects were arrested on possession of controlled substance charges.

msmith@themonitor.com

This story has been updated with a detailed breakdown of Wednesday’s drug bust.