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Dogs are known as man’s best friend, but to a police officer they are more than that — they’re a partner.
In Antioch, where budget cuts have eliminated all but the most basic of expenses, the police department recently lost two K-9 officers, one because of old age and the other because the dog’s handler completed his commitment and is looking to transfer to another department. A karate studio is planning a fundraiser to help an officer get a new four-legged partner.
“I like the saying, ‘It takes a village to get a dog,’ ” said Jade Greene, business manager for the American Shaolin Kenpo studio on Lone Tree Way.
As part of its grand opening Saturday, the studio will hold a silent auction and raffle, with all proceeds going toward purchasing a new police dog.
Antioch officials project $33.7 million in revenue for the 2010-11 fiscal year — about $10.5 million less than the city took in three years ago.
Detroit Public Schools Police Department officers John Greene and Nitro have been named Police K-9 Team of the Year by Police K-9 Magazine.
The March issue will feature Greene and Nitro, a 5-year-old black and tan Slovak German Shepherd. The narcotic patrol team was honored for their 510 canine uses in 2009, which is considered an extremely high number of uses. Those included 314 building searches, in which he apprehended suspects 65 times. The team had about 90 arrests in 2009.
“During my career I have not seen another team able to match the canine uses and success that John and Nitro have displayed,” Terry Foley, owner of K9 Academy Training Facility, said in his nomination letter.
In one incident last September, Nitro sniffed out three men who broke into an elementary school. Officers on the scene had been trying for an extended period of time to find them and couldn’t. Nitro found the suspects in a cubby hole and they immediately surrendered.
Greene is a veteran police officer who has been with the Detroit Public Schools Police Department for 4.5 years and previously worked at the Detroit Police Department.
When a criminal suspect meets Officer Jeff Stork’s partner, they often surrender quickly and some can show a scar from a previous encounter when they didn’t.
Stork is a K9 officer and his partner is K9 Storm, 4-year-old Belgian Malinois. With a speed of 38 miles per hour and the ability to clear a football field in 6 seconds, Stormy — as Stork affectionately calls him — isn’t easily outrun.
Storm can be very lovable at times, evidenced by his friendly lean on your leg when he first meets a friend to his master, but when it’s time to work he gets serious about what Stork tells him to do.
It’s that way with all the K9 officers at Johnson City PD, the Jonesborough Public Safety Department and Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
In Rio’s two years with Jonesborough Public Safety, he’s found more than 20 pounds of marijuana, significant amounts of cocaine and thousands in drug money while on patrol.
All K9 Officer Scottie Greene had to do was get Rio, his 4-year-old Belgian Malinois patrol partner, in the right situation to smell out the drugs. He’s all business when Greene tells him to work.
But if Greene pulls out the ball Rio loves to chew, he’s ready to play. Actually, Greene said it’s all play to Rio. He works to get his reward — his ball to chew on. And when he alerts on the smell of drugs, he’s promptly rewarded.
Both department’s programs and the one at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office have been in place a number of years. Johnson City has four dogs and Jonesborough and Washington County each had two until last month.
One of Washington County’s dogs recently retired after being diagnosed with cancer.
But until she began having trouble with her leg, K9 Scout was instrumental in numerous drug arrests, according to Deputy Lee Cross, her handler.
When a deputy called for assistance on a traffic stop in October 2008, Cross and Scout responded. Scout alerted on the vehicle and officers found $20,000 inside and with other evidence were able to make an arrest.
That led to another location where officers found $100,000 and a kilo of cocaine — all because of Scout’s sensitive nose.
Cross and Scout worked together about two years, but her career went back several more years and she had two other handlers in the department.
Deputy Kurt Sells and K9 Udo is the other K9 team for Washington County.
Udo, 9-year-old German Shepherd, is Sells’ personal dog.
“I own this dog. I bought him when I worked at Jonesborough,” he said.
Sells wanted to work as a K9 officer and began training Udo and received approval when he worked for the Jonesborough department to work toward certification.
Johnson City Officer Jeff Jenkins said his partner, K9 Marko is “like a 70-pound lap dog for me,” but the dog doesn’t warm up to others so quickly.
At home, Marko keeps his distance from Jenkins’ wife and children — and other animals, including Tigger, Jenkins’ last K9 partner who’s now retired.
Jonesborough Officer Mike McPeak is the newest K9 officer in the area — he just received his certification a few weeks ago and paired up with K9 Gregor, a 19-month-old Dutch Shepherd with six months of patrol under his collar.
JPS Major Matt Rice said the K9 program in Jonesborough is very community oriented, and it shows in the type of dogs they have.
“We focus a lot more on community relations type projects. I’m not saying that Johnson City and Washington County don’t,” he said.
But it’s obvious when you meet Rio and Gregor, then encounter the Johnson City K9s that there is a significant difference in their personalities and how they interact with the public.
Rice said Rio has “done an outstanding job in drug searches and tracking.”
He said the dogs really support and help pay for the program. Funds that come back to the town from drug seizures goes back into the K9 program.
“This type of program is not cheap,” he said.
One malinois ready to start patrol work can cost $9,000 or more.
But when the cost of the dog and its training, and the potential loss if the dog is hurt or killed is compared to the potential loss of an officer, Johnson City Police Chief John Lowry said there is no comparison.
“Even though those dogs become their partner, they all understand that dog is a tool. We’ve had a dog shot. Heaven forbid we didn’t utilize that K9 and end up getting an officer shot,” Lowry said.
“I have a great respect for the program and a great respect for the officers,” Lowry said. “Because of a dog’s extraordinary sense of smell, they can search a building in a lot less time than it would take a group of officers to do … they’ve found a lot of narcotics over the years,” he said.
Johnson City’s K9 program took a turn in the last year or so and all four dogs are pretty young, said Sgt. Eric Dougherty, who supervises the team.
Dougherty’s own partner, K9 Rex, another Belgian Malinois, is 3 years old, and during their year together Rex has detected a kilo of cocaine.
“We’ve had two surrenders where the suspect gave up” before Dougherty had to give the command to bite, he said.
Officer Rob Edwards has the most seasoned partner with 5-year-old K9 Cliff, still relatively young for a police K9.
But the two have had their share of exciting calls.
“He’s found about eight people on tracks and he’s had about 10 surrenders before I had to send him in,” Edwards said.
On one track, Cliff found a burglary suspect after sniffing him out through 200 yards of creek — and then having to bite him to get him to surrender.
In his two years with Edwards, Cliff has also been responsible for the seizure of a total of around $180,000 in drug money, Edwards said.
“He’s done a pretty good job,” Edwards said.
He agreed with Lowry that the dogs are tools for the officers.
“They’re not pets. Because of their training, it’ll cause them to do things that pets don’t do,” he said.
At the same time, Cliff is good with children, but not overly friendly.
Undue circumstances pushed Cliff quickly to senior status at the department.
“We just had some retire due to age and because of an injury we had to retire (another) one,” Dougerty said. Tigger, Jenkins’ former partner, was shot while working last year, but recovered from that and went back to work.
But earlier this year, his stomach flipped — a deadly situation for a dog if not treated immediately. Jenkins recognized his partner was in trouble and got him to the emergency pet hospital in time.
“He’d had a long career and had been through a lot so we retired him,” Dougherty said.
Normally, dog replacement would be spaced out further, so there would always be seasoned dogs on the road, but with the retirements and injuries, “all of a sudden, within a two to three year period we had to replace them all,” he said.
But it’s worked out well. All four dogs are working and doing their jobs.
Dougherty said the department uses Belgian Malinois because they are more readily available and they’re a good breed for the job.
These eight officers consider themselves luckier than their coworkers because they go to work every day with their best friend, who adores them and does everything they say — a friend that would lay their life on the line for the officer, but only on the officer’s command.
For these officers, it can be a blessing and a burden.
By Becky Campbell
What may have looked like a serious crime scene at La Salle M&H Park, as nearly a dozen police cruisers and sports utility vehicles from around La Salle and Bureau counties staged on the east side of the park, was just a training day for area K9 units.
K9 officers from both counties meet weekly to work with their dogs and further their training.
It was just over a year ago, that the NewsTribune followed La Salle’s K9 officer Brian Zebron and partner Justis, a Belgian Malinois, around on a training day. At the time, they were one of the few K9 units in the Illinois Valley, meaning those on the job were regularly called in to assist neighboring departments. Now there are about 12 K9 teams spread around the La Salle and Bureau counties.
While the area K9 units continue to offer cross-jurisdictional assistance the load has gotten a little easier.
“I’ve gotten some sleep since there’s been more K9 dogs around,” said Zebron.
During the training sessions, the officers don’t just workout their dogs, they spend time socializing and sharing lessons learned on the job.
“We gain a lot of experience talking to people,” Zebron said.
The shared wisdom present when the group of cops gets together can prove beneficial to those new to the K9 position.
“I’m just trying to learn from some of the guys who have had dogs before,” said Bureau County deputy Chad Hall, whose partner Chica has walked the thin blue line since November.
Depending on their schedules, any number of the area K9 officers will show up to train for about eight hours – at least four hours a week of training is expected, according to Zebron. Training sessions cover searching, bite work and tracking in a variety of locations and situations to keep things as realistic and challenging for the dogs as possible.
Watching any of the dogs at work, tackling police officers during bite training, for example, reveals how tough they can be, but Zebron said the dogs are generally more social than police dogs of the past.
Early police dogs were expected to be pretty vicious but the current trend is toward social dogs able to safely interact with the public, Zebron said. He added even his own former partner Johnny, who retired in 2008, wasn’t particularly friendly.
State trooper Jeff Nickels has had his first canine partner, Qundo, on the job for about six months – an experience both strenuous and rewarding.
“You can’t be lazy at all,” Nickels said. “Basically, every officer looks to you.”
While other officers look to the K9 units for support, the public may not realize they even have canines protecting and serving their community.
“A lot of people don’t even see what we do on the
street,” Zebron said.
Over the course of a shift, a K9 unit will be called in to assist on any number of incidents, from searching homes and vehicles to tracking subjects or searching for criminal paraphernalia. Like proud parents, many of the K9 officers are happy to share tales of their partners’ successes.
Despite the fact most of the area dogs have been on the job for a year or less, they’ve already racked up hundreds of pounds of seized drugs, tens of thousands of dollars and multiple vehicles, but it’s not the big busts that get K9 officers excited.
“The bigger finds are good to show off, but the smaller finds show the dog is working,” said Bureau County deputy Brent DeVenney. “Any dog can hit on 100 pounds, but what dog can find the eight ball (1/8 ounce) of heroin?”
DeVenney shared a story of working with his partner Rico — also known as “The Old Man” amongst the local K9 units because he’s about 10-years-old and has been on the job for six years. The pair was called in to help search a car in Walnut.
During the search, Rico kept trying to get on top of the car. When police searched the roof they found a single, used heroin syringe hidden in the car’s water rail.
Rico has also uncovered cocaine spoons hidden in velvet Crown Royal whiskey bags beneath car floor mats, DeVenney said.
Zebron and Justis have a pretty amazing tale of their own.
The La Salle K9 unit was assisting with a residential search in Mendota. The house was filled with smoke. As they walked through the home, Justis began alerting on a Diaper Genie, a diaper disposal pail designed to hide odors.
After officers on the scene decided who would be the unlucky one having to search through a pile of dirty diapers, a softball-sized lump was found on the bottom of the pail. It turned out to be a melted mix of cocaine and diapers that the resident had attempted to flush down their toilet and burn before stashing it in the Diaper Genie.
When off duty the officers and their canine partners go home together, where most of the dogs live in outdoor kennels. At home the officers, their dogs and any other family members can lead fairly normal lives of owners and pets, but when it’s time to work the dogs are all business.
“I know with my dog as soon as she sees me in uniform she goes crazy. She’s just in that mode,” Spring Valley officer Tim Greene said of partner Hera.