CRESTVIEW — Don’t let the big pointy ears, endearing gaze, soft fur and sometimes playful demeanor fool you. The Crestview Police Department’s three K9s can get serious with just one quick command from their officer partners, and when they do, they mean business.
After all, their “pay” is the delight of getting to play with a favorite chew toy after each successful job.
Man’s best friend has assisted in law enforcement since the Middle Ages, when a portion of tax levies in some medieval English counties were used to support the shire sheriff’s bloodhounds, which were used to track down outlaws.
It wasn’t until the Victorian era and the rise of the industrial revolution that the police dog came into his own. As London rapidly urbanized, new tools were needed to combat the increasingly aggressive bands of thieves who plagued the city.
In 1889, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren had two bloodhounds trained in an attempt to track down the notorious serial killer, Jack the Ripper, in one of the first documented instances of dogs being specifically trained for law enforcement work.
Around the same time, Paris gendarmes started using dogs to combat their own roaming nighttime bands of thugs, but it wasn’t until 10 years after Sir Charles’ noble first efforts that in the Belgian city of Ghent, a dedicated police dog unit was organized by a major metropolitan police force.
Soon the use of dogs in law enforcement spread around Europe, with German and Austrian police gaining renown for their expertise in training K9s — primarily the German shepherd dog. The first police dog training academy reportedly opened in Grünheide, Germany, in 1920.
Today’s police dogs are either single or dual purpose officers. Single purpose dogs are used primarily for backup, personal protection and tracking.
Dual purpose dogs do those tasks, too, and also detect either explosives or narcotics. But they can’t do both because the dog cannot tell its officer partner whether it found one or the other. Its alert signal would be the same.
The Crestview Police Department got its first K9, Officer Flot, in 1995. His partner was then-Lt. Jamie Grant, who is now commander of the agency’s Operations Support Division. Today’s K9s, Cody and Sonic, both German shepherds, are dual-purpose dogs like Flot. K9 Hero, a Belgian Malinois, is single purpose.
Between their physical and sensory capabilities, intelligence and eagerness to please their handlers, K9s are one of law enforcement’s most effective tools to combat crime.
“You can’t fool a dog,” Cmdr. Grant said. “He has no reason to lie. He just does what he’s been trained to do.”
In 2014, the Crestview Police K9 Division was deactivated with the medical retirement of K9 officers Rex and Edo. Its reactivation occurred in 2015 and was funded entirely by citizen donations totaling $30,275.81. Gifts came from citizens of all walks of life, including children who handed Chief Tony Taylor baggies full of coins, including their birthday money.
Kody and Sonic were named by their highest-contributing donors, with K9 Kody, partnered with Officer Nate Marlar, named by Dr. Greg and Jan Lillie, administrators of the estate of the late dog lover Diana Gilbert, whose favorite dog had been a shepherd named Kody.
Ricky Bagwell and Jim Prentice, owners of the Crestview Sonic restaurants, got to name K9 Sonic, who is partnered with Officer Jay Seals. Resident Brian Bethea donated K9 Hero, who partners with Officer Joey Haun, as an adolescent puppy. Brian’s mom, Iris Bethea, completely funded the partners’ training.
This academic year, the Crestview Police Department partners with Walker Elementary School, where students and faculty, led by the student council, are doing a school-wide fundraiser to acquire a fourth K9 for the agency. If the effort is successful, the dog will, of course, be named Walker.
It costs between $15,000 and $18,000 to acquire and train a K9 and its human partner in an intensive 13-week training program in Alabama, in which the dogs and their handlers are constantly together, creating an inseparable bond that continues when the team comes home and goes to work.
When the human officer is off duty, his K9 partner is part of his family, interacting with spouses, children and family pets.