Sheriff's Deputies Now Protecting Potter Park Zoo

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Residents of the Potter Park Zoo are sitting up and taking notice of some new neighbors.

"It's my position to hire four new officers to patrol 24-7, 365," says Ingham County Park Patrol's Sgt. Dan Sump.

Since Ingham County took over the zoo, four new officers with the Ingham County Sheriff's Office, including officer Dominic Johnson, now bike and walk through the zoo all hours of the day, making sure all is well and secure with humans and animals alike. They're licensed officers, able to arrest and protect at their discretion.

"It's an excellent thing for the zoo," says zoo veterinarian Dr. Tara Harrison. "The security here has never been so great."

In fact, a lack of security had posed a problem in recent years.

Lansing police were often responding to late-night calls of trespassing, vandalism and destruction.

Both Dr. Harrison and Sgt. Sump recall those incidents.

"We've had people break in, climb fences," Harrison says.

"They had lots of stray dogs that would terrorize the animals," Sump mentions, including dogs in 2006 that killed three Patagonian cavies. "Since we've taken over, we've had no more problems."

It's not just zoo staff and patrons who appreciate the new force. It's the animals, too. The police are trained in case there's an animal emergency.

"We're trained in emergency evacuation and animal escapes," Sump says.

And wilder yet?

"Sometimes at night they'll need to check to see if babies are born," Harrison says.

That's not usually in a Sheriff's deputy's job description; but these officers are happy to take a real walk on the wild side.