O’Fallon Police Department sees four-legged retirements, welcomes rookies to K-9 Unit
ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- The O’Fallon Police Department is preparing for the retirement of one of its beloved K-9 officers, as the unit welcomes a new puppy to the force.
K9 Griz, a 75-pound German Shepard from Belarus, will retire next month after serving with the department since 2017. He is the ninth K9 in the department’s 25 year history of its K-9 unit.
K9 officers typically serve between six and eight years on the force and retire when common ailments like arthritis begin to impact their quality of life or job performance. In retirement, they often transition to a family pet that lives with their handler.
“I think that sometimes people see the dog and they just immediately assume this is a vicious animal and it’s going to bite and go out of control and we dispel those myths,” said Sgt. Keith Lewis, who oversees the department’s K-9 unit.
O’Fallon currently has four K9 officers, Griz, Bear, Vegas and Loki. Every dog must be certified twice a year in order to work patrol or participate in narcotics searches.
Matt Frkovic is Loki’s handler, his second K9 dog in his career.
“Running off into the woods by yourself, you and the dog, can be nerve-wracking,” said Frkovic. “But knowing you have a properly trained dog next to your side that can apprehend a bad guy before he does something to you helps you sleep well at night.”
The dogs are known as “dual purpose dogs,” meaning their training extends from sniffing out narcotics, obedience, tracking and aiding in the apprehension of suspects. However, Lewis says using a K9 officer is the last resort.
“When law enforcement have to make that ultimate decision to use force, we sometimes can’t take that back, with a dog we have that ability to take it back and recall it,” he said.
Each dog is controlled by its handler using a series of commands. While they are trained to bite a suspect in many situations, they also are able to be called off the suspect, or told to let go, through a simple command.
“These dogs don’t hold grudges, they don’t know the difference between a person, a training sleeve or a ball, it’s just a game to them,” said Lewis. “They know if they follow commands, they’ll get that reward. These are incredibly driven animals.”
The dogs are bred overseas, most often in Belarus and the Czech Republic. They usually weigh between 60 and 70 pounds once mature.
“It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle,” said Frkovic. “I tell people. I spend more time with my dog than I do my wife and kids.”
The department places one K9 and its handler on each shift, so if they’re needed, they are available. Often, seeing the K9 officer is enough to get a suspect to comply, said handler Adam McClenning.
“His mere presence is automatically a show of force and more times than not that will do the job for us, people see a police dog, often times they’re barking and that does it,” said McClenning.
Since 1997, the department’s K9 unit has aided in the apprehension of criminals and helped to seize hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug money.
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