New generation of K-9s joins local ranks
Each of these four-legged officers has been or will be trained for tracking and drug detection. They will not, however, learn to bite suspects when located — a skill traditionally imparted as part of the K-9 training process.
A new era in K-9 police work is beginning in the lakes area, with the fresh legs of three pups and a shift in training focus away from apprehending suspects.
Timber, a 1-year-old Belgian Malinois, recently began her work as the first female K-9 to serve the Baxter Police Department, partnered with Officer Taylor Halverson. Her sister Shuri will soon join the Nisswa Police Department under the handling of Officer Conner Collette. And the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office recently learned it obtained grant funding for its own pooch, a Belgian Malinois/German shepherd mix expected to arrive in January for some initial bonding time with its handler Deputy Tyler O’Brien.
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Each of these four-legged officers has been or will be trained for tracking and drug detection. They will not, however, learn to bite suspects when located — a skill traditionally imparted as part of the K-9 training process. Baxter Chief Jim Exsted said Tuesday, Dec. 7, there’s a number of reasons police departments on a whole are shifting away from apprehension training, particularly potential liability issues, but the most important one for his department is saving time and money in training.
“I think the biggest thing for us is just the fact that it was going to take less time. And then once trained up down the road, there’s less time, because you don’t have to focus on the apprehension part at all,” Exsted said during a phone interview. “You can just work on the drug stuff and the search stuff.”
Timber, who is already used in tracking situations, will soon undergo drug detection training. Instead of eight to 12 weeks of training, she will likely need just three weeks of in-house work with Sgt. Matt Maier, the previous Baxter K-9 handler whose expertise in police dogs extends more than 15 years.
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“Our previous K-9 we still trained as an apprehension dog. But it took up a lot of time,” Exsted said. “ … The benefits versus the time — you know, we weren’t seeing it. Most of what we do is drug work, narcotics search. And in an apprehension dog versus a non-apprehension dog — the tracking component is similar. It’s just at the end, you don’t train to bite.”
Nisswa Police Chief Craig Taylor, who noted 13-15 years have passed since the last time the Nisswa Police Department had its own K-9 officer, said the city’s location along a state highway means drugs move through the community. K-9 Shuri and her skills will offer more tools for Nisswa officers to divert those narcotics away from the streets, he said.
"It’s not all that uncommon to get reports of lost children or children that wander off. And with all the water around here, it’s very important to try to find them quickly."
— Nisswa Police Chief Craig Taylor
“It’s probably easy to imagine that any drugs that go north to Bemidji or farther north than that even, they’re probably coming through Nisswa, a lot of them,” Taylor said Tuesday. “It’s our responsibility to do our part in trying to curtail that. And we have seen an increase in drug arrests in Nisswa over the last couple years.”
The tracking skills are also an asset, Taylor said, particularly in a region where lakes and rivers abound.
“It’s not all that uncommon to get reports of lost children or children that wander off. And with all the water around here, it’s very important to try to find them quickly,” Taylor said. “And also we have an elderly population … and some of our citizens are vulnerable adults and sometimes they wander off, too. And we also want to get to them quickly as well.”
Sheriff Scott Goddard said adding a K-9 trained for police work to his office was a longtime goal and a $7,500 matching grant awarded through a partnership between AKC Reunite and the United States Police Canine Association made it possible. An internal survey of sheriff’s office staff showed a desire across the department to add the skills of a police dog, both as part of patrols as well as contraband searches in the jail. Goddard said he’s noticed apprehension of suspects by K-9s going by the wayside in law enforcement in general.
"Without a doubt, they are worth their weight in gold, you know. If you get a good dog and a good handler working together, they’re a priceless part of a team."
— Sheriff Scott Goddard
“We’re very happy with our drone program and the capabilities that we’ve got there, along with the great pilots and the equipment that we’ve got for searching,” Goddard said Tuesday. “But obviously, not all scenarios are something that makes it feasible for a dog and along the same line, not all scenarios make it feasible for a drone to search. So we want to expand that possibility there, and the dog that we’re getting is … going to be really rooted in the search aspects and also in the detecting of drugs.”
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The new sheriff’s office K-9 will join but not replace Lincoln, Goddard’s yellow Labrador retriever partner. Lincoln’s purpose as a member of the sheriff’s office is different because he works as a calming support dog and is trained to respond to more than 70 commands designed to put people at ease.
Goddard said their new K-9 and the other K-9s in the area beginning their terms of service are valuable additions to the law enforcement toolbox for the county.
"In an apprehension dog versus a non-apprehension dog — the tracking component is similar. It’s just at the end, you don’t train to bite."
— Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted
“Without a doubt, they are worth their weight in gold, you know. If you get a good dog and a good handler working together, they’re a priceless part of a team,” Goddard said. “And that’s what our goal is. And I think we’ve got a good pick for a handler and hopefully, we’ll get a good pick on the dog. And this is just the beginning. This isn’t going to be the end. We’re hoping to make expansions on this once we get our feet planted and we’ll continue to grow it.”
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The sheriff said they don’t yet know the gender or appearance of their future team member, but he noted he hopes to involve the community in naming the animal when it arrives.
“I think there’ll be a little more of a tighter bond with our community, having them have a say,” Goddard said. “So we’re going to explore every possibility to make that happen.”
CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .