The phrase “man’s best friend” carries a lot of weight for La Vista K-9 Officer John York. That’s because it refers to his partner, Leda, a Belgian Malinois.
About three and a half years ago, the La Vista Police Department added a K-9 officer position to the force. York applied immediately.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I’ve been in law enforcement,” said York, who has worked in law enforcement for a total of 16 years.
The department then purchased Leda, and introduced York to his new K-9 partner. She was green at first, with little police experience, so the two went straight to work training.
After an initial 16-week training period, they now spend eight hours each week devoted to training.
“These dogs, even though we train them up initially, are just constantly wanting to go back to being a dog,” York said, “and we’re just constantly wanting them to be police officers.”
But the work pays dividends to the La Vista Police Department, York said. Leda is double certified as both a narcotics and a patrol dog. On the narcotics end of her job, she can sniff out vehicles, residences and businesses for major drugs such as methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine and heroin. On the patrol side, she can search businesses when an alarm goes off, track and apprehend criminals, help to find someone who is lost or even help to recover evidence.
He said a dog works much more efficiently in many situations police have to deal with and often keeps officers out of harm’s way.
“The rewards are tremendous,” he said.
Last month, York and Leda participated in the Nebraska K-9 Championships, held by the Nebraska State Patrol at the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center in Grand Island. Twenty-one teams from across Nebraska and two from neighboring states competed in 12 events.
York said the best part was getting to learn how other K-9 officers handled their dogs.
“It was just a great opportunity for me to rub elbows with some of the great handlers in this state,” he said.
York and Leda brought two medals back to La Vista, including a gold medal in the High-Risk Building Search event, which tested the duo’s building search skills. The other medal was a bronze in the Critical Skills event, which tests dog obedience, including its ability to stay obedient during gunfire and to defend its handler.
York said he was pleased with the gold medal because building searches are something the partners do most often on the job.
When not on duty, Leda stays with her handler and, York said, acts like an average dog.
BY Trenton Albers